Hand-painted craftsmanship marks Danish porcelain

Anyone not familiear with the famous Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted patterned dinnerware or the figuriness and decorative plates produced by this 200-year-old company would certainly become well-acquainted with it on a trip to Denmark.

It is easy to see why it is called Denmark's "national service" for the handsome pattern of cobalt blue on gleaming white is seen almost everywhere, and it is a pleasure to see it each time ti makes its appearance, in restaurant or private home or museum.

On a trip to Denmark with a group of American and Canadian food editors, I was invited to the Royal Copenhagen factory where we watched the hand-painting of the famous Flora Danica pattern and saw hundreds of pieces of the beautiful Blue Fluted porcelain. We also saw many other patterns by this famous company, whose dinnerware has gone into the homes of courts and palaces everywhere, including the White House and Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory Ltd., was supported orginally, by several members of the royal family, although it was founded as a private company by Fritz Henrich Muller in 1775.

Queen Juliana Marie in particular took a keen interest, and it is said that ther majesty suggested the factory's trademark, the three blue wavy lines, symbolizing the waterways through Denmark -- the Little Belt, the Great Belt, and the Sound.

A short sail around Copenhagen Harbor was an unexpected pleasure in my visit to Denmark as guest of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Agricultural Council. With the other food editors I had been invited for dinner at Christiansborg Palace and transportation was by boat, to a dock within walking distance of the palace.

AT the palace we dined on the elegant Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica pattern, which consists of about 1,800 pieces with about 1,500 pieces from the original service still being used for gala dinners. Most of the service is kept at the castles of Rosenborg and Christiansborg, but some particular items have found their way into Danish museums.

The famous porcelain factory was taken over by King Christian VII in 1779 and after nearly 100 years in royal possession it passed into private ownership in 1868, but its name and factory mark stayed the same.

A young architect, Arnold Krog, who became art director in 1885, was responsible for the renewal of shapes and designs in underglaze decoration which established the factory's reputation and made Danish porcelain famous all over the world.

He gathered around him a circle of young painters and sculptors who took their inspiration and subjects from Danish nature. The tradition from this time is still fully alive today and many young artists have since joined the team.

One of the resons for the unique position of Danish underglaze decoration in the world of porcelain art is the national character of its design and subjects as first introduced at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. On this occasion and also at later exhibitions the factory was awarded the grand prix.m

When Royal Copenhagen Porcelain started in 1775, its main objective was to creat what they call a valid article, in blue porcelain. Many experiments were carried out with ultramarine, primarily known from Chinese porcelain, and one of the first successful results was the service well known today as Blue Fluted.

Ever since its creation this service has been considered a prized posession among Danish families, used by generation after generation and handled with great care and respect.

It is a favorite gift of diplomats and heads of state, but it also found in the most modest of homes and in many fine restaurants in Denmark.

Bouquets decorating the service are still hand-painted, using the same technique that was used over 200 years ago and I was walked through the Royal Copenhagen shop when I was in Denmark I saw the artists painting with the famous blue color in much the same way artists have been turning out these beautiful pieces for years.

No two bouquets are exactly alike and I watched as each painter made his or her own choices of 12 different flowers for a bouquet for small pieces and a choice from as many as 16 for larger decorations.

The individuality of this famous pattern is furthered also by the special brush technique used. By putting more or less force into each stroke of the brush, the painter varies the individual flowers, their shading and the effects of play of light.

In only a few places of the world are such decorations still painted under these conditions, but to Royal Copenhagen Porcelain, maintaining this tradition is of great importance. Only in this way can the decoration acquire what our host described as a life of its own, the human touch that mechanical printing can never obtain.

Blue Fluted is the oldest and best-known Royal Copenhagen pattern, and it is still the Best-selling design.This pattern is actually of Chinese origin and was first introduced to the Western world by the Meissen factory in Germany in the 1740s. From there it spread to several European factories and to Royal Copenhagen in 1885. It was completely redesigned in 1885 by Mr. Krog. By 1910 when this pattern was at its peak, the service included some 1,500 different pieces.

Flora Danica, the pattern that is considered the second most important Royal Copenhagen pattern is a floral design inspired by a great botanical work published in Copenhagen between 1761 and 1883. Considered one of the outstanding products of Danish craftsmanship of the 18th century, it was ordered originally in 1789 by King Christian VI.

When after 12 years, work on the service was discounted at orders of the King , it was comprised 1,800 pieces which were delivered to the royal palace and used for the first time at the anniversary dinner for Christian VII in 1803.

Over the years the Flora Danica pattern has become more and more popular and is one of the most sought after in the world today. A service for 60 persons was given to the Danish government as a wedding present to Princess Anne Marie of Denmark and King Constantine XIII of Greece in 1964.

The making of the Flora Danica service demands the highest skills of the craftsmen in all stages of production. Each piece is shaped, carved, and painted by hand.

Color engravings of Danish flora serve as models for the many different pieces which are decorated in the exact corresponding colors and shades. A thousand different florwers are used for its decoration, and because of the many hand processes, it is the most expensive set in the line.

The Latin name of each plant used for decoration is painted in the reverse side of the piece along with the signature of the painter and the gold decorator who engraves the rich gold after the final baking and polishing.

It is this craftsmanship and careful tending to detail which have their roots in two hundred years of tradition, that have helped create the high standard and achieve the exceptional fame and esteem of Flora Danica.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.