Dresden figurines draw their inspiration from the ones made a couple of dozen kilometers down the Elbe River in Meissen. In fact, the link between Dresden and Meissen is so close, particularly in the minds of United States and United Kingdom collectors, that for years the more familiar word, Dresden, was used to describe figurines and other porcelain pieces that had actually been produced in Meissen.

The confusion dates to the early 18th century, when, in 1708, a faience (glazed earthenware) factory was founded in Dresden by a local alchemist named Johann Friedrich Böttger. Just two years later, Böttger figured out a formula for hard-paste porcelain, which he produced beginning in 1710 in Meissen. By the middle of the 18th century, figures styled after Italian commedia dell'arte characters were common, and by the end of the 18th century, faience was out and Dresden-decorated, Meissen-made porcelain was in.

During this period, in 1882, the first use of the Crown Dresden stamp was pioneered by a decorator named Helena Wolfsohn. The following year, a quartet of decorators (Donath & Co., Adolph Hamann, Richard Klemm, and Oswald Lorenz) registered a crown stamp as the official mark for their Dresden wares. Although there were no actual porcelain factories in the city itself, Dresden supported some 200 porcelain-decorating shops through World War II, when the industry was essentially bombed into oblivion.

One of the most famous techniques of Dresden artists was something called Dresden lace. To create the illusion of real fabric on figurines of women dancing at royal balls or posing in groups, decorators would dip actual, delicate lace into porcelain slip before applying it by hand to the porcelain figure. When fired in a kiln, the fabric would burn away, leaving a hard but extremely fragile shell of frozen crinoline skirts and billowy material behind.


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V&A Porcelain Figures

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