History of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory
Nymphenburg is one of Europe’s most venerable porcelain factories, was founded near Munich in 1747 by Maximilian III Joseph, the elector of Bavaria. It didn’t begin producing under the name we know today, however, until 1761, when it was moved to Nymphenburg Palace.
Porcelain was invented in East Asia around 2,000 years ago, and its formula, which requires a special clay called kaolin, became a closely guarded secret. It wasn’t until the early 1700s that chemists at Meissen, Germany, in the employ of Augustus II the Strong, the elector of Saxony, discovered a process for making true, as opposed to soft-paste, porcelain. Soon factories across Europe were producing fine porcelain services and sculpture for an elite clientele.
Nymphenburg was one of these factories, manufacturing elaborate services for dinner, dessert, coffee and tea, and sculptures for the Bavarian nobility. Round objects, such as dishes and vases, were turned on potter’s wheels, while more complex ones, like figures, were slip cast in molds. This technique ensured that the pieces’ dimensions were precise and consistent. Once shaped, they were fired and, after that, hand-decorated by experienced china painters, who finished each to exacting standards.
Among Nymphenburg’s most famous objects are its lively and charming rococo-style figurines, most often depicting Commedia dell’Arte characters or exotic Chinese figures. Today, the company makes versions of its historic figurines with updated forms and decorations by such designers as Christian Lacroix and Vivienne Westwood.
It also still makes one of its earliest, and eternally popular, china patterns: the floral Cumberland, created in 1765 by Franz Anton Bustelli as the electoral court service. Cumberland is one of more than 20,000 patterns housed today in Nymphenburg’s archive , enabling owners of incomplete sets to find replacements. In addition, the company has engaged contemporary designers such as Ted Muehling and Hella Jongerius to create witty new designs that celebrate the firm’s history while giving it a fresh spin.