Archive for the 'M.S. Rau Blog' Category

Wedgwood: A Story of Splendor

October 6th, 2016 | posted by Phillip Youngberg

The ceramics of Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) rank amongst the most expert and stunning in the world. Throughout the development and craft of pottery in England throughout the 18th century, there exist few names that speak to perfection like Wedgwood. Having no equal, Wedgwood and his workshops transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary and elevating the craft of ceramics manufacturing into a grand industry.30-5197_3

Coming from a long line of pottery manufacturers, Wedgwood was immediately immersed with the craft. He was just 9 when he was thrown into the realm of pottery throwing. However, when Wedgwood contracted smallpox, it left his knee permanently damaged and unable to work the pedal on the potter’s wheel, forcing him to concentrate more on modeling and experimentation. With this occurrence, few imagined that his craft and talent would achieve the immense success that it did. Yet, these early trials only served to motivate him to achieve the highest level of precision in his work.

Crafted of light blue jasper dip in the Brewster shape, the teapot’s straight sides display beautifully applied classical figures

Crafted of light blue jasper dip in the Brewster shape, the teapot’s straight sides display beautifully applied classical figures

Before Wedgwood, ceramics manufacture was still considered a peasant craft: methods of production were still primitive and potters were not looked at with high regard. In all, pottery before Wedgwood was merely a modest trade. Faced with the dilemma of crafting fine ceramics in the changing tastes of the time, Wedgwood changed the game of ceramics manufacturing. He became a pioneer in his field. His eye for fine craft prompted him into uncharted territories of pottery design and innovations. Holding a thorough understanding of the chemistry of ceramics, Wedgwood was able to craft what had never before been imagined.

Only created for a short period of time during the 1920s, crimson jasper pieces by Wedgwood are incredibly rare

Only created for a short period of time during the 1920s, crimson jasper pieces by Wedgwood are incredibly rare

When it came to his most notable works, there is no question that his greatest success lies in the development of a new range of materials, inventive styles, and more durable wares.  Wedgwood’s first distinctive achievement as an independent potter was his invention of new type of stoneware called Jasperware. Ground-breaking in the field, some described this as most important development in the history of ceramics since the Chinese discovery of porcelain 1,000 years earlier. Masterfully crafting wares out of this new material, Wedgwood also looked back to Classical motifs and neo-classical, drawing tastes away from the opulent Rococo. Adorning his pieces with applied neo-classical foliate accents and relief figures, his pieces began to take on a personality of their own.

His success didn’t stop there. A short number of years later, Wedgwood crafted a cream-colored tea and coffee service for Queen Charlotte, known as Queensware, that brought him international recognition. It was later in his already established career that Wedgwood’s career reached its pinnacle: creating a copy of the Ancient Roman Portland Vase. This crowning achievement cemented his legacy.

In the years after the development of this sophisticated stoneware, the importance of Wedgwood is still far reaching. Undeniably, the Wedgwood’s early experimentations were a turning point in the industry. With their unmistakable designs and forms, the splendor of Wedgwood ceramics continues to captivate experts and consumers alike.  Today, the mere mention of the name Wedgwood evokes thoughts of innovative designs and high quality wares.

Beauty & Beer: The Steins of Mettlach

September 26th, 2016 | posted by Danielle Halikias

Mettlach stein adorned with a wonderful landscape of the village of Beerfurth and topped by a finial of Rodenstein Castle

A “stein” is a drinking vessel, usually with a handle and hinged lid, historically used for consuming beer. While cups and glasses have existed since ancient times, steins were first created in response to “the black death” or bubonic plague. Following the devastation of Europe during the Middle Ages, parts of Germany passed legislation requiring that all containers be covered. This new law kept swarming insects from contaminating food and drink. Thus, the stein was invented!

Mettlach stein from "The Book Stein Series" depicting literature of the architectural trade

Mettlach stein from “The Book Stein Series” depicting literature of the architectural trade

Mettach beer stein depicting the keeper of a wine cellar

At first, steins were created entirely by hand: thrown on the potter’s wheel, fired in a wood-burning kiln, and painstakingly decorated. But by the second half of the 19th century, mass production of ceramics using plaster molds, along with rising popularity both at home and abroad, led to “the Golden Age” of antique steins. By the late 1800’s, beer steins claimed a truly unique place in German culture—a position that they still retain.

Many companies produced stoneware during “the Golden Age,” but the most popular was Villeroy & Boch of Mettlach, Germany. The manufacturer, founded in 1809 and located in an old Benedictine abbey, was the largest and most important producer of ceramics of the 19th century. Known to collectors as simply “Mettlach,” Villeroy & Boch steins are accepted to be the most artistic and of the highest quality.

The subject matter depicted on Mettlach beer steins ranges from whimsical characters to historical battles—and may be any number of things in between! Because custom steins were a popular gift for special occasions, the majority of them depict scenes highly personal to their owner. In fact, the two largest series ever produced by Mettlach revolve around skilled trades or professions. These series, both consisting of 12 designs, are the “The Mettlach Occupationals” and “The Book Stein Series.”

slide1Recent decades have seen a renewed interest in collecting German beer steins, and the most valuable on the market are Villeroy & Boch steins manufactured during the Golden Age (c. 1885-1905). Much like hallmarks on silver, each  Mettlach stein bears the Villeroy & Boch mark. The most sought-after being those featuring the silhouette of the old Mettlach tower. Below the tower is a rectangular banner reading “Mettlach” and a semi-circle bearing “VB” for Villeroy and Boch. The base will also bear three numbers—the left designates the artisan or decorator, the center lists the serial number, and the right records the year that it was made. 

Whether you are drawn to exceptional rarity, specific subject matter, or simply designs that you find interesting, no collection is complete without a beautiful beer stein by Mettlach!

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Navigating the Cubist Style

September 21st, 2016 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter

Viewed through the canvases of abstract art giants such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the Cubist movement encapsulated an entirely new visual language that permeated the art world. At once two-dimensional and thought-provoking, Cubist artists were swept away with the idea that they could deviate from the traditional, accepted notions of painting. While earlier academic artists were pre-occupied with painting truth to nature, the Cubists created an art that stemmed from the desire to challenge the conventional forms of representation.

This rich, complex oil on canvas was composed by the modern Cubist Max Papart

This rich, complex oil on canvas was composed by the modern Cubist Max Papart

Often, these modern artistic innovations are thought to be associated with technical advancements at the turn of the 19th century: the emergence of industrialization, development of photography, the motor car, and air travel. It is to no surprise, therefore, that artists reflected on these changes in pioneering ways.

By upending old tried and true methods of painting that had served art for the past four centuries, such as perspective and foreshortening, Cubists abandoned old techniques in favor of new ones. Artists now explored new methods of opening forms, blending background into foreground, and showing one object fragmented and from various angles. In the same instance groundbreaking, distorted, and abstracted, these new stylistic techniques yielded prompt recognition and regard.

Papart’s captivating compositions are a veritable exploration of planes and facets, with geometrically constructed shapes uniquely formed in shallow spaces

Papart’s captivating compositions are a veritable exploration of planes and facets, with geometrically constructed shapes uniquely formed in shallow spaces

While Picasso and Braque are credited with creating this monumental movement, it was developed and further adopted by many others, such as French artist Max Papart (1911-1924). The contemporary tendencies and audaciousness of Cubist art completely enamored Papart, and his working style shifted to embrace the ideals of modern art form.

The pioneering spirit of this movement is evident in his work, Nu Debout dans un Intérieur. At once radical and innovative, this painting shows how he incorporated the revolutionary ideals of Cubism on canvas. Papart invites the viewer to witness a female form not as we see it in reality, but from multiple vantage points. Almost like an exploration of perspective, the surface is thick with overlapping planes and geometrically constructing shapes. Painting as if viewed through a fragmented lens, this compelling work is a testament to Papart’s mastery of the Cubist aesthetic.

Signed “Max Papart” (lower right)

Signed “Max Papart” (lower right)

In the years after the development of this style, the importance of Cubism is still far reaching. Though primarily associated with painting, the Cubist movement exerted profound influence on architecture, interior design, and furniture. Cubist artists, like Max Papart, paved the way for non-representational art by uniting the scene and the two-dimensionality of the canvas.

Inner Workings on Display: The English Skeleton Clock

September 13th, 2016 | posted by James Gillis
This incredible presentation skeleton clock is was made by John Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell, London.

This incredible presentation skeleton clock is was made by John Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell, London.

The term “skeleton clock” refers to any clock or wristwatch in which the internal mechanisms have been made visible. They are extremely difficult to make and must be superb in every way—a marvel of mechanical precision as well as a beauty to behold! Because of the intricacies of manufacturing a skeleton clock, their successful creation represents the absolute height of a clockmaker’s skill. Many such clocks were crafted for display at international exhibitions to showcase a new technological innovation or as a special presentation piece.

This particular skeleton clock is one of the finest ever produced. Standing an impressive 28” tall, it was made by John Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell as a special commission. The beautiful timepiece was given as a gift to Joseph Norton, owner of the Highbridge Textile Mill in Yorkshire, in honor of his retirement. In fact, the clock still bears a silver plaque that is engraved “Presented to Joseph Norton Esquire on retiring from business by his Numerous Work People as a Testimonial of Their Regard and Esteem. May 1864.” The skeleton clock is designed in the Gothic-Revival architectural style, and time is accurately indicated on a silver dial with Roman numerals. Visible for all to see, time is measured using an exceptionally rare triple chain fusée movement and Vuilliamy-type deadbeat escapement. Meanwhile, a steel gong strikes each hour on the hour and eight nested bells ring every quarter hour—it sounds just as beautiful as it looks!

Smith & Sons was one of the premier makers of fine skeleton clocks in the 19th century.

Smith & Sons was one of the premier makers of fine skeleton clocks in the 19th century.

Smith & Sons made clocks of this high quality on a built to order basis.

Smith & Sons made clocks of this high quality on a built to order basis.

This remarkable clock is prominently featured in Skeleton Clocks: Britain 1800 – 1814. In the text, the author Derek Roberts praises the timepiece as “one of the finest English skeleton clocks produced.”

The makers of the clock, John Smith & Sons, are particularly famous for their turret and skeleton clocks. The company was founded in 1780 and produced their wares from a factory in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell from 1830 until the late 1980s. The factory itself was very unique because it housed every discipline necessary to manufacture a clock from start to finish—they even seasoned their own mahogany and cast brass parts in an on-site foundry!

Recognized for their innovation and remarkable skill from the start, John Smith & Sons presented clocks at several international exhibitions, including the illustrious Crystal Palace exhibition on 1851, to great acclaim. Although the English firm has since ceased clock-making, its world-wide renown has failed to fade. Today, the beautiful skeleton clocks manufactured by John Smith & Sons are heralded as the finest ever produced!

Captivated in Color: The Perpetuity of the Sapphire

September 9th, 2016 | posted by Susan Lapene

Immediately recognizable for its velvety, rich blue hue, the sapphire is among the crème de la crème of the gemstone world. In the centuries since the gem’s discovery, the sapphire has endured as a symbol for royalty, as well as truth and faithfulness.

The breathtaking color and rarity of this 10.30-carat natural, “no-heat” Burma sapphire is perfectly presented in this fabulous platinum ring

The breathtaking color and rarity of this 10.30-carat natural, “no-heat” Burma sapphire is perfectly presented in this fabulous platinum ring

Legends dating to the ancient Greeks tell of high ranking oracles and priests dripping in gleaming sapphires, as they believed the stone granted spiritual insight, as well as access to the god Apollo. Into the Middle Ages, kings and queens believed that sapphires would protect them from envy and harm. A stone with the power to make peace in conflict, call to the spirits, and reveal the secrets of prophecies, the sapphire was a powerhouse amongst the myths and legends of the gemstone world. The sapphire’s association with romance emerged in the 1980s, when Prince Charles presented Princess Diana with a gleaming blue sapphire engagement ring, and admirers everywhere desired a glistening sapphire just like hers. With these enduring stories about the power and importance of the sapphire – to say nothing of its beauty – it is little wonder that this stone has reached legendary heights in terms of both value and reputation.

Stunning pink and blue "no heat" sapphires are joined by 1.37 carats of sparkling white diamonds in this elegant ring

Stunning pink and blue “no heat” sapphires are joined by 1.37 carats of sparkling white diamonds in this elegant ring

With a name that derives from the Latin sapphirus, meaning “blue stone”, the sapphire has long been associated with the color blue. The color variety of sapphires, however, encompass nearly every color on the spectrum. A stone of great versatility, the sapphire can be found in shades of violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and even grey or brown. With each color comes its own quality variation, mineral composition, and specific market. What they have in common, however, is an intense durability, measuring a 9 out of 10 on the MOHS scale of mineral hardness – an extraordinary rating that is second only to diamonds.

An all natural cushion-cut pink sapphire ring set with 0.78 glittering carats of micropavé-set diamonds

An all natural 4.88-carat cushion-cut pink sapphire ring set with 0.78 glittering carats of micropavé-set diamonds

The modern-day obsession with the sapphire reached its peek in the mid-19th century, during the heyday of sapphire mining. The stones are sourced from around the world, with mines in Burma (now Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Australia and Montana, among other places. The best of the stones undoubtedly come from the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, though few of these highly coveted sapphires can be found today. Discovered in 1882, the mine was virtually depleted by 1887, and there has been no other massive sapphire deposit mining in Kashmir since. Because of this, these high quality Kashmir sapphires have become increasingly more sought after, and command high value due to their unmistakable deep blue color.

With its remarkable history and position as a stable fixture in the gemstone market throughout time, the importance of this gemstone cannot be overexpressed. All of this, proving the ceaseless importance and high status of the sapphire, shows that this gemstone has held its own even hundreds of years after its discovery.

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