Lot 108. The Williams-Wynn Meissen Hen from the Royal Saxon Porcelain Menagerie. A Meissen white porcelain model of a hen with her chicks, 1732; 13 ½ in. (34.5 cm.) high. Estimate 300,000 - GBP 500,000. Price realised GBP 467,250. © Christie's Image Ltd 2019
Naturalistically modelled by J.J. Kändler, with her head turned towards her tail, a chick preening itself on her back and further chicks peeping out from under her wings and feathers.
Provenance: Commissioned by Augustus II (1670-1733), King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (Augustus 'the Strong'), for his porcelain menagerie in the Japanese Palace, Dresden, and one of four delivered there in 1732.
By descent to Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony (1797-1854), when it was one of two examples purchased by Helena Wolfssohn from the Saxon Royal Collection on 8 January 1851.
David Falcke, New Bond Street, London; his sale, Christie's London, 28 April 1858, lot 1449 (sold to 'Falck', most probably his brother Isaac Falcke).
Probably sold before 1862 to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 6th Baronet (1820-1885), and by descent in the Williams-Wynn family to the present owners, Llangedwyn Hall, Wales.
Note: One of only four examples, a 'hen and her young' (Gallus domesticus) is one of the rarer bird models created by the Modellmeister Johann Joachim Kändler for the Saxon Royal porcelain menagerie. Another is known in a private collection. The third remains in the Porzellansammlung, Dresden. The whereabouts of the fourth, sold to Prince Anatol Demidoff in July 1853, is currently unknown. The porcelain menagerie became the centrepiece of Augustus the Strong’s Japanese Palace, sometimes referred to as his porzellanschloss (porcelain castle), and the life-size models are still considered today to be the most important 18th century sculptures in porcelain.
Obsessed with porcelain, the Elector-King Augustus ‘the Strong’ had the largest collection of Asian porcelain in Europe with over 29,000 pieces recorded on his death in 1733. After his own porcelain factory was opened at Meissen in 1710, he became increasingly interested in the idea of Meissen surpassing Asian porcelain in quality. The culmination of this ambition was the incredible idea of a menagerie of life-size birds and animals made in porcelain. Menageries were an important component of displaying princely power, so perhaps it is not so surprising that a porcelain-crazed king should have commissioned a porcelain menagerie. Several of his palaces had animal enclosures, and his Löwenhaus (lion house) included a number of savage beasts which were used for animal fights and hunting. When wild and exotic animals were displayed during pageants they were intended to astonish the crowds, but their display was also designed to demonstrate the king’s power over these magnificent creatures, signifying his ability to bring order to the world.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE JAPANESE PALACE
In 1717 Augustus acquired the Holländisches Palais (or Dutch Palace), installing part of his kunstkammer there in the same year: ‘His Royal Majesty bought the palace for a large sum of money in 1717 on account of its splendour and excellent situation, and has preserved it for posterity under the name of the Japanese Palace…Having done this, he had the world-famous kunstkammer brought to this palace three years ago from Neu-Dresden for the sake of good air.’ (1) This is the earliest reference to the palace as the Japanese Palace, and an indication of Augustus’s decision to create a Porzellanschloss. He had initially planned to remodel Schloss Pillnitz in the style of a ‘Saxon Versailles’ to house his expanding porcelain collection, but this didn’t come to fruition; the Dutch Palace was remodelled and expanded for this purpose instead.
The king’s acquisition of porcelain was closely tied to his planned interior layout of the palace. A 1728 plan indicates that his porcelain was to be grouped according to colour or type, rather than used to furnish the palace in the traditional sense. The palace’s interior decoration was closely tied to the decoration of the porcelain, its walls to be clad in embroidered Indian satin and lacquer. Numerous alterations to the interior schemes were made by Augustus during the planning stage, but it is clear that he intended the ground floor to be furnished with Asian porcelain, and that the upper floor was to display Meissen porcelain. The porcelain from Meissen was to be grouped according to colour or type (celadon, purple or green coloured porcelain for example) (2), and visitors would pass along the Neustadt-side gallery where the animal models were to be displayed (the decision to display them here was made in the summer of 1730). The palace had the practical function of housing the collection, but it also had symbolic significance at a political, cultural and spiritual level. Walking through room after room filled with jewel-like porcelain, grouped symbolically into colours, and past a majestic porcelain menagerie, guests would have eventually arrived at the purple Throne Room which was designed to have a porcelain throne.
THE CREATION OF THE PORCELAIN MENAGERIE
The success of the project was dependent on the Modellmeister having not only the creativity, but also a deep understanding of the technical challenges that such an ambitious project would pose. The task was initially given to Gottlieb Kirchner, the first sculptor permanently employed by Meissen. Kirchner was a difficult character, but he had valuable experience of working in porcelain which was essential to the early successes of the factory. He was joined shortly after by Johann Joachim Kändler, who was employed as his assistant in June 1731. Kändler had never worked in porcelain before, but his unique style and skills developed quickly, and it wasn’t long before it became clear he was the more gifted of the two as a sculptor. It has been argued that Kändler’s ability to expressively breathe life into his porcelain models was unparalleled in the 18th century. Both modellers either studied their subjects from live beasts in the collection of the Mortizburg menagerie, or the Dresden Löwenhaus, or sketched them from specimens in the Animaliengalerie at the Zwinger in Dresden.
The vast majority of the larger animals and birds remained together until the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1756, when they were moved to the cellar of the palace. In the late 18th century, Count Camillo Marcolini attempted to move the figures to the Zwinger (where they are displayed now) (3), as he felt that they would be better appreciated within the context of a curated museum. This did not materialise, however, and the figures remained in the cellar until 1876 when they were eventually transferred with the remainder of the collection to the Johanneum (a former stable building). Here the menagerie models were seen in all their sculptural glory (4).
SALES FROM THE PORCELAIN MENAGERIE
In 1833, Gustav Klemm, Secretary of the Royal Library, was appointed ‘Inspektor’ of the Royal Porcelain Collection. Klemm’s vision was to widen the variety of the collection so that it formed ‘a kind of universal museum for the ceramics of all the countries and peoples of the world’ (5). In order to raise funds for this project, and create space for new pieces, he drew up a list of duplicate pieces in the porcelain collection which could be sold. The first recorded loss of large models from the menagerie in the 19th century was the 1836/37 exchange of porcelain with the Sèvres manufactory in France. Johann Carl Friedrich Teichert, the agent acting for Sèvres, acquired further duplicate bird and animal models from the Royal Collection in 1849. At the end of 1850 Teichert applied to purchase further models, including a model of a hen, but his suggested price for the group of pieces was rejected, and it seems that this sale never took place (6). In the same year two pairs of bird models were sold to the Dresden-based dealer Moritz Meyer, and a bird and three animals were sold to ‘Mr. Marks’ from London. By the time permission to sell to Marks was granted, he had already left Dresden, and the confirmation of receipt of the four models was signed for not by him, but by the dealer Helena Wolfssohn (7).
In 1850 Helena Wolfssohn applied to purchase 22 models from the menagerie, and she took receipt of 21 models (one was declined due to poor condition) on 8th January 1851. The present model, along with another model of a hen, was among these pieces (8). It is possible that the London dealer David Falcke was in Germany scouting for pieces to buy when he bought the two hen models from Helena Wolfssohn (9). David Falcke (1818-1866) and his younger brother, Issac (1819-1909), were the sons of Jacob Herbert Falcke (1784-1841), a dealer who had emigrated from Märkischer Kreis in the North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and settled in Great Yarmouth. Shortly after the birth of his second son Isaac, Jacob moved the business to Oxford Street in London. After Jacob’s death in 1841 the brothers moved the business to 92 New Bond Street. In the 29th December 1909 obituary for Isaac in The Times it noted that it was ‘during this period that the brothers made periodical visits to the Continent, particularly to Germany, France, Italy and Holland, picking up innumerable objects of art at very small prices’.
When David Falcke retired in 1858 his brother Isaac had already retired. The firm’s stock was sold in a 19-day sale at Christie’s, starting on 19th April 1858. On the ninth day of the sale (28th April), the “2 Hens with young” models that he had bought from Helena Wolfssohn were sold as lot 1449 under the heading ‘FINE OLD WHITE DRESDEN FIGURES / From the Japan Palace, at Dresden’, making £7 and 10 shillings. Curiously, the buyer of the two hens is listed as Falck (without an e), who also bought the following two lots (two models of storks). Whether the buyer was his brother Isaac, or another buyer by the name of Falck (this seems improbable), is unclear. Isaac’s 1909 obituary notes that after his brother’s death in 1866, he continued to collect, periodically having to sell portions of his collection due to unfortunate investments (his maiolica, for example, was sold to Sir Richard Wallace, and is now in the Wallace Collection).
If he was the buyer in the 1858 sale, and still owned the Meissen hens in 1862, Isaac would presumably have lent them to the 1862 International Exhibition in South Kensington, as he lent portions of his collection to this exhibition. He lent further pieces from his collection to the 1868 Leeds Art-Treasures Exhibition, and between 1875 and 1877 he lent pieces to the Bethnal Green Museum. The hens were not present in any of these exhibitions, or in the three sales at Christies after Isaac’s death (April, May and July 1910). This suggests that Isaac had probably already sold the hens, most probably directly to the Williams-Wynn family, by 1862.
THE WILLIAMS-WYNN BARONETS
Although it is currently not certain which member of the Williams-Wynn family acquired this important Meissen hen, it was most probably Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 6th Baronet (1820-1885). It is also currently unclear as to which of their houses the hen was displayed in when it first arrived in their collection. By the 18th century, the Williams-Wynn baronets had become the largest landowners in Wales, and had numerous houses and castles. It is possible that it could have been acquired for Wynnstay which was rebuilt between 1859 and 1865 after a devastating fire in March 1858 (which destroyed the house and much of its contents).
Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn was caricatured by ‘Spy’ (Sir Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair as ‘The King of Wales’. A Lieutenant in the Life Guards (1842), he was also Member of Parliament for Denbighshire between 1841 and 1885, Lieutenant Colonel of the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry (1844-1877) and the aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria from 1881. The Williams-Wynn London residence was 20 St. James’s Square, which Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, the 4th Baronet, had acquired in 1771. The 4th Baronet had engaged the architect Robert Adam to remodel the house and its interiors (completed in 1774), and Adam also designed the carpets, door furniture and a silver service for the house. It is interesting to note that at the time when the Williams-Wynn family are most likely to have purchased the hen (circa 1860), Sir Watkin’s neighbour in number 19 was Lord Barnard of Raby Castle, County Durham (Northern England), where there are still four bird models from the Japanese Palace porcelain menagerie. The monumental model of pelican at Raby is almost certainly the pelican in David Falcke’s Christie’s 1858 sale, which came up two lots before the hens (10). It is very possible that the two families influenced each other's purchases. For the footnotes to this lot, see www.christies.com.
(1) Samuel Wittwer, The Gallery of Meissen Animals, Munich, 2006, p. 32.
(2) Wittwer illustrates the assorted floorplans, see ibid., 2006, p. 33, figs. 31-33. The symbolic significance of the coloured displays of porcelain in each room would not have been lost on visitors to the Palace. Each room represented a different quality or state which was expressed through colour, for example red conveyed power, green symbolised humility, yellow conveyed splendour, blue gave a sense of divinity, before arriving into the throne room which was decorated in purple, which conveyed authority.
(3) In the early part of the 20th century, plans were reformulated to house the collection at the Zwinger where it was partially displayed in 1939. The Porzellansammlung opened to the public in 1962 in its current home in the Zwinger.
(4) For a photograph of the gallery with Meissen porcelain in the Johanneum taken in circa 1900, see Samuel Wittwer, A Royal Menagerie, Meissen Porcelain Animals, Rijksmuseum dossiers, Amsterdam, 2000, p. 45, fig. 34.
(5) Samuel Wittwer, ibid., 2006, pp. 223-224.
(6) Samuel Wittwer, ibid., 2006, pp. 225-226.
(7) From 1843, Helena Wolfssohn ran a workshop which decorated white porcelain. She had a legal battle with the Meissen manufactory over her use of ‘AR’ marks on pieces, as this implied that they were Royal and 18th century Meissen-decorated, when they were in fact spurious (‘Augustus Rex’ marks were used by the manufactory in the 18th century on Royal pieces or for Royal gifts, such as the King of Sardinia Service, lot 104 in this sale).
(8) Samuel Wittwer, p. 226. Another model of a hen was sold to Prince Anatol Demidoff in July 1853, noted by Wittwer on p. 227.
(9) Since the 1820s English dealers had travelled to Dresden and Meissen in search of 18th century pieces for re-sale in England, see Joachim Kunze, ‘Die Bedeutung des “Englischen Handels” mit Porzellan im “Altfranzösischen Geschmack” der Meissner Manufaktur in der Ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts’, in Keramos, no. 95, January 1982, pp. 37-50.
(10) Falcke may have acquired the pelican from Wolfssohn, as one of the pieces on her 1851 list was a pelican.
Christie's. The Exceptional Sale, London, 4 july 2019