A Last Illusion, Still Unshattered
It has become a habit (not without good reason) in Western Europe and the United States to deplore piracy from China. Many believe that the incredible economic rise of China over the last 25 years has been built on the back of copying or outright theft of western products including everything from technological to cultural wares.
In an increasingly globalized world, interconnected by technology, ideas are flowing beyond borders and patent or copyright protection seems to be an increasingly quaint notion.
Yet there was a time when piracy meant the west borrowing from the east. Very few people are aware of this history which runs counter to the present situation. At times, the Far East has held sway over western life and culture. A striking example of this can be found in the Hungarian town of Herend, 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of Veszprém in Central Transdanubia.
Herend is quite famous for its beautiful porcelain creations. Its high end pieces have adorned the palaces, chambers and tables of European Royalty since the mid-19thcentury. Today it exports three-quarters of its manufactured porcelain to Japan and the United States.
For those in the know, the name Herend is the mark of exceptional quality when it comes to what has been termed, “white gold.” This high degree of quality is all the more remarkable considering that Herend is also the world’s largest porcelain manufactory.
The success story of Herend is built upon two foundations. The first is the vision of Mór Fischer, who took a failing enterprise from the edge of oblivion and raised it to the highest fame in just twelve years. The second foundation is the co-opting of Chinese designs and patterns.
Fischer took over the Herend factory in 1839 from its owner who after a decade had succumbed to bankruptcy. The factory had been focused on earthenware pottery, an intensely competitive market. Fischer transformed the manufacturing process in his first year of ownership by gearing it towards the creation of artistic porcelain.
There was demand in Europe for dinnerware replacement pieces. It was terribly difficult for royalty to replenish high end pieces from Germany and the Far East.
Replacement pieces were one thing, but creating innovative patterns was quite another. Fischer and his artisans soon proved to be masters of this as well. In 1851 Herend Porcelain was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London‘s Crystal Palace. These caught the eye of Queen Victoria who ordered a dinnerware set. Herend’s ensuing Victoria design became famous for its Chinese style butterflies and flowery branches in eye popping colors. Herend’s rise was now meteoric. Soon Fischer’s factory would be the chosen supplier of porcelain to the Habsburgs.
Under the eye of Fischer, the Herend’s artisans continued to borrow from oriental styles while embellishing the pieces with their own stylistic flourishes. Most famous is Herend’s fishnet pattern which came about when one of its artists used a Chinese plate’s fish scale design as a model. It can still be seen on Herend’s figurines today.
Be sure to stop in at Herend’s Porcelanium where you will find a museum and mini-manufactory. All pieces are still hand painted, intricately detailed, to produce a supreme work of art. It is spellbinding to watch the artisans at work.
It is a role reversal of the most exquisite taste and refinement.
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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