Dresden Figurines

Dresden Figurines

This company of lovely Dresden/Meissen ballerinas came from several QBO Estates. They range from small (3″), to ‘medium- large’ (6″) and are in good condition considering their age and extreme fragility. They are entirely porcelain, including the airy lace.

Also called Porcelaine de Saxe, German hard-paste, or ‘true’ porcelain, many of these figurines are over 100 years old. As their name implies, they were (and still are) made in and around the German city of Dresden by a number of different companies. The first was the Meissen factory, founded near Dresden in Saxony (Germany). They started production in 1710 and are still active today.

The process takes many steps: figurines are cast in molds, trimmed, then details such as voluminous lace and dainty hand-sculpted roses are applied. After that they are fired, then hand-painted with colored and clear glazes, fired again and lastly finishing accents of real gold or silver are brushed on over the glaze. The high percentage of hand work means that even though the figurines are mass-produced, there are always variations.

The most astonishing part of the process arethe great ruffled swathes of lace. If you look carefully you can see it is indeed REAL LACE – a decorative netting of knotted thread in intricate patterns of tiny holes. The lace details are produced by a process called Lace Draping. Real cotton lace is soaked in a porcelain slurry until the fine clay particles completely penetrate the fibers. The wet lace is then draped onto the raw, unfired porcelain figurine and allowed to harden. When fired at 2,381℉ to 2,455℉, the organic fiber incinerates, leaving behind a skeletal porcelain matrix. As you might imagine, when these figurines are damaged, the lace often takes the first hit – it is very fragile!

Dresden figurines appealed to the upper classes and depicted a luxurious life of dance, music, socializing and romance. Great attention was paid to the elegant clothing, which remained rooted in wealthy 1700 – 1800 styles. Larger figurines show courting couples: men playing harpsichord for their lady, or ladies playing the harp for their gentleman. Occasionally more down-to-earth occupations are depicted but strictly romanticized for an upper-class buyer pining after an imagined simpler life (not unlike French Queen Marie Antionette, who liked to cosplay at being a shepherdess.)

Most figurines are purely decorative, but these two fanciful dancers, with seashell and swan respectively, are actually containers while the all-pink little lady is posed on a tin dome which may be the lid to a powder jar.

Dresden and Meissen porcelains are not identical but there is considerable overlap. The Meissen factory originally contracted out the decoration of their pieces to Dresden hand-finishers, who later started their own factories, in all nearly 40 companies. Also confounding precise identification is the vast number of makers marks. Large makers varied theirs over time and small makers imitated them closely. And there is a sadder reason for so many marks – Dresden figurines were popular with English collectors. When Germany and England fought each other in both WWI and WWII, porcelain makers tried to obscure their products’ German origin. In WWII the city of Dresden was targeted with such ferocious Allied ariel bombing that some in the military later publicly questioned it. 25,000 people in Dresden were killed, and the Dresden-based knowledge of how to make porcelain lace was almost lost. But, you can still sometimes find these delicate, phoenix like dancers through QBO sales.