By Judy Gonyeau
When Queen Elizabeth was preparing to celebrate her 90th birthday, a beautiful set of china was commissioned by the Royal Collection Trust, which is dedicated to preserving European royal art collections. But how does one go about creating exquisite tableware fit for a Queen? With regard to commemorating key events, the final word on design goes straight to the monarch herself.
Ian Grant, production controller for the Royal Collection Trust, told HELLO! magazine in 2016 that: “The products are always shown to the member of the Royal Family in whose honor they are made before we go into production with that range, because it’s very personal and we want to make sure it reflects their wishes and desires. When Prince George and Princess Charlotte were born, we presented the china to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and they were given the ‘Number One’ pieces of each of the ranges.” Profits go back into preserving the Royal Collection, which is held in trust by the Sovereign for the nation.
While souvenir pieces are prolific, creating porcelain products for Royal households brings to mind the top-notch makers from around the world. Here are a few of the go-to favorites.
When it comes to providing royal families with tableware and porcelain works of art, the Manufacture de Vincennes (Sèvres)-founded with support from Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in Sèvres near Madame’s Chateau de Bellevue-was established.
Sèvres first opened in 1740 and continues to this day. Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplesis was the artistic directory from 1748 to his death in 1774-the business being brought under the Crown in 1759 – and began making hard-paste porcelain after 1770.
An artistic group within Sèvres, called the “floristry,” was created. It was composed of twenty young girls working under the direction of Madame Gravant to paint and burnish the pieces. When women were banned from working at Sèvres in 1753, they continued to work from home, despite the risk of breaking the delicate pieces prior to firing when being transported to and from their home studios.
Porcelain created at Sèvres was collected “obsessively” by aristocratic and royal clients, including King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, Prince Regent and later King George IV, and numerous other members of royalty from around the world.
Wedgwood’s enduring appeal among the world’s Royal Families and Heads of State began with Queen Charlotte, who ordered a set of cream-colored earthenware that pleased her so much that Josiah Wedgwood was granted permission to style himself “Potter to Her Majesty” and call his innovative creamware “Queen’s Ware.” A few years later, the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia ordered a service of Queen’s Ware for fifty people, which consisted of 952 hand-painted pieces featuring gardens and English scenery. Today, this service is kept in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Since the time of Queen Charlotte, Wedgwood collections have graced the tables of British monarchs and other illustrious Heads of State at the Vatican, the Kremlin, and the White House. It was also the brand of choice for some of the world’s most prestigious hotels. In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt ordered a 1,282-piece service for the White House, and in 1953 a special pattern was designed for a 1,200 piece service used at Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation lunch.
Herend Porcelain has been featured in numerous noble households since the Habsburg dynasty. When the doors of the Herend factory opened in 1826, the company primarily created earthenware pottery but there was something exciting being cooked up behind the scenes. Founder Vince Stingl was conducting research experiments in porcelain creation, a mantle that was later taken up by Mor Fischer, who acquired the company in 1839 and began producing artistic porcelain pieces within the year.
Herend Porcelain’s foray into artisanal dinnerware couldn’t have come at a better time. Just across the channel, England was enjoying the birth of the afternoon tea trend, introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, as a combatant to hunger pangs between breakfast and dinner. As any experienced hostess knows, table settings are as important as taste when serving afternoon tea, and serving your guests with a Herend Porcelain tea set quickly became a sign of high social standing – a status it still holds today.
While porcelain has been used across the world for many centuries, Herend was one of the leading European brands responsible for elevating it into art. In 1842, the company took home a bronze medal from the Hungarian Industrial Art Exhibition and that was only the start of its success. In 1867, Emperor Francis Joseph awarded Fischer nobility in recognition of his work. Yet its influence is not reserved for the elite. In 1897, Herend became the pioneer in apprentice training in Transdanubia, a scheme backed and funded by the government because of its trust in the company and its owners.
In 1851, word of the brand’s designs had spread across Europe, and Herend’s porcelain made its debut appearance at the Great Exhibition in London that year. Here it was spotted by Queen Victoria, who ordered a beautiful butterfly and floral patterned china set that was later named after her.
When preparing to host a meal of any type, members of Royalty turn to their staff to dot the i’s and cross the t’s for what can be to some an overwhelming amount of carefully coordinated work. According to the article “Dinner fit for a Queen” in the July 24, 2015 issue of England’s The Telegraph, planning for a state visit starts about a year ahead of time. Assignments from polishing individual mustard cellars to cleaning 2,500 glass items are completed using traditional methods. “Two weeks ahead of time, the State Rooms are a hive of activity. Trays of Stourbridge glasses made for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 are being carried up from the Glass Pantry; 18th-century porcelain is being polished; and a member of the household staff stands in the middle of the Ballroom, steaming the linen tablecloth. More than 2,000 pieces of cutlery, tableware and salvers, plus 23 centrepieces – all part of the 4,000-piece Grand Service bought by George IV 200 years ago – glimmer under the lights.”
The end result of all this work is an exhibition of regal proportions moving from one course to the next with seamless transitions completed by a staff with incredible attention to detail and duty. To many, this is reminiscent of preparing for a Thanksgiving feast-bringing out the “good” china, glasses, and silver to entertain friends and family-but on a grand scale. It is all a matter of preparation, proportion, and good taste.
Sources: noble.life, Wikepedia.com, Hello! magazine, Wedgwood.co.uk, artfund.org, skinnerinc.com, janeausten.co.uk, wedgewoodmuseum.org.uk, antique-marks.com/sevres-porcelain, herendusa.com, scullyandscully.com, thetelegraph.co.uk