A group of figures of a Japanese couple

Meissen, model presumably by Friedrich Elias Meyer c. 1760
Manufacture and decoration c. 1767

H. 22 cm (8⅔ in.); no mark


In this group a moustachioed Asian is seen squatting on a light-blue display cushion with golden tassles at the corners. In his left hand he is holding an open book and in his right hand a medallion that is resting on the cushion and has deutsche Blumen painted upon it within a rocaille surround. With his head turned over his left shoulder he is looking up towards a lady who is standing behind him and shading him from the sun with an open parasol. Both figures are wearing long broad robes tied in at the waist, with the man’s robe open at the top to reveal his chest. While his gold-trimmed white garment is decorated with golden flowers and purple blooms, the lady’s pale yellow robe has simply golden flowers. The group originally crowned a desk set in which the ink and pounce pots were executed as a Far Eastern young man and girl respectively. According to Rückert (see below), the form number 2778 makes it possible to date the model to the year 1760 and to identify the modeller as most likely having been Friedrich Elias Meyer. One of the first examples to be manufactured went to Elector Clemens August of Cologne (d. 1761), in whose set, which is now preserved at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford/Connecticut, the central group displays his monogram in gold on the medallion. The next known example to be manufactured was deliverd to the Prussian king Frederick the Great, who had occupied the Meissen manufactory in the course of the Seven Years War (1756–1763): “A writing set with a Chinaman sitting on a cushion holding his head up as if he were singing, and behind him a nymph who is holding a parasol over his head in a posture as if she were listening to his song,” (quoted from Rückert 1966, p. 183). [Ein Schreibzeug, wo ein Chineser auff eim Pulster sitzet, den Kopf in die Höhe haltend als wenn er sänge, hinter ihm eine Nimpffe, welche ihm ein Sonnen Schirm übern Kopf hält und die Stellung macht als wenn sie ihm zuhörte.] In a later reference to the group from the pen of the Modellmeister Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706–1775), who revised the entire model in June 1767, the figures are not Chinese but Japanese: “Entirely reworked a large pedestal for a Japanese writing set with many ornaments, all very elaborate. However, the moulds are entirely ruined so that it was an extremely laborious business renovating the whole thing. To this end I made new base more suitable for the firing, because the three feet on the original cannot support it [the group] in the fire. I then cut the item up and sent it on for moulds to be made.” [Ein großes Postament Zu einem Japanischen Schreib Zeuge welches mit Vielen Zieraten Versehen, und um und um ausgeschweiffet die Forme aber völlig ruiniret ist, aufs mühsamste gäntzl. erneuert, darzu eine neue Unterlage Zum brennen gefertiget, weiln es die 3. daran befindlichen Füße im Feuer nicht tragen können. Selbiges sodann zerschnitten und zum abformen befördert] (Quoted from U. Pietsch: Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775, Leipzig 2002, p. 163). Also involved in the repairing and reworking of the model, however, was Kaendler’s colleague Peter Reinicke, as the original modeller, Friedrich Elias Meyer, had left Meissen in 1761 for the Berlin manufactory. Accordingly, in August 1767 Reinicke recorded that he had “put right an inkpot and a pounce pot in clay showing sitting Chinese figures” [ein Dintenfaß und Streusand Büchse beyde sitzende Chinesen vorstellen in Thon reparirt] and in September “a Chinaman sitting holding a book of music in his hand and behind him a Chinese woman holding a parasol” [ein sitzender Chineser mit Noten Buch und hinter ihm eine Chinesische Weibsfigur stehend, einen Sonnenschirm haltend, in Thon reparirt] (Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen, Archiv, AA I Ab 43, fols. 76b and 93b).

The overall idea for the writing set was very likely conceived by the Prussian king himself, who from 1750 onwards launched a new chinoiserie mode at his court in Potsdam, having the Chinese Tea-House built in the park of Sanssouci, ordering “nodding pagods” from Meissen, and issuing the commission to the manufactory for the “Japanese Service” that was executed to designs from his own hand. Nevertheless, he was still capable of adopting a critical stance towards chinoiserie, the deeper sense (or lack of sense) of which was on occasion the subject of earnest discussion in his correspondence with Catherine the Great.

For comparison: Hartford/Connecticut, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum (publ. S. Ducret, Deutsches Porzellan und deutsche Fayencen, Fribourg 1962, p. 132f.); Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (publ. R. Rückert: Meissener Porzellan 1710-1810, Munich 1966, p. 183, cat. no. 993 and plate 242).

REF No. 418