Porcelain Manufactory Nymphenburg White Gold

Massemühle, Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg
Massemühle, Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg | Photo (detail): Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg

Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory is unique in that it manufactures its products entirely by hand. As an undertaking it appears almost misplaced in time. All the more amazing that these fine porcelain objects embody the vision and spirit of the avant-garde.

Outside you can hear birds chirping and the rushing water of the stream that drives the belts to turn the mill and the potter’s wheels inside the Porcelain Manufactory. The establishment was founded in 1747 by Elector Max III and has been at its present site in the North Rondell of Munich’s Schloss Nymphenburg since 1761. When entering the distinguished workshops through the park landscape with its brightly coloured majolica figures it feels as if time has shifted.

Painting, Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg Painting, Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg | © Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg The birth of every figure and every vase created at the Nymphenburg Manufactory starts in the hands of Zeus – Dieter Zeus. He is responsible for the porcelain mass of kaolin, feldspar and quartz and rolls the paste until it is smooth and then leaves it to rest for two years until it is ready for processing. “Manu factum” is meant quite literally here at Nymphenburg: besides hand-processed porcelain paste, also the paints are prepared individually in the manufacturer’s own laboratory. Turning and casting is always done by hand and every ornament is applied individually to the final piece. Working without templates and with great concentration the porcelain decorating artists rely on their instinctive feeling when they apply the different motifs to the glaze of the smoothly fired porcelain. For a single plate of the Cumberland rococo service, regarded as the world’s most complex floral design, an artist may work for up to three weeks.

Before one of these unique pieces leaves the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg it is marked with the Wittelsbach coat of arms and the personal marks of the potter, former and painter who produced the object.

Master-craftsmanship tradition fostered for centuries

Olaf Nicolai, Tea Set CULA Olaf Nicolai, Tea Set CULA | © Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg Perhaps for this reason it is all the more daring and avant-garde in its design approach. The Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg always understood that it would benefit from big names. Back in the rococo period already, it was the sculptor Franz Anton Bustelli who brought the Manufactory to glory with his fanciful, frivolous figures. Today it is famous artists like Kiki Smith, Tobias Rehberger and Olaf Nicolai or designers such as Ted Muehling, Konstantin Grcic and Hella Jongerius who inspire enthusiasm for the design of Nymphenburg.

Konstantin Grcic, Pepper Sprinkler Konstantin Grcic, Pepper Sprinkler | © Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg Hella Jongerius chose eight animal figure designs from the treasure of historic shapes at the Manufactory and placed them in simple white bowls. The classic painting of the fox or hippopotamus was then supplemented with a different pattern from Nymphenburg’s painting archives creating a playful and appealing contrast. The Munich-based industrial designer Grcic remained true to his puristic, reduced values. He was fascinated by shapes that played a rather marginal role in the company’s history, insulators from electricity masts, for example, that he turned into sleek salt and pepper cellars. Also Patrik Muff from Switzerland, who is well known for his punk jewellery, drew inspirations from historical Nymphenburg designs, such as Franz Ignaz Günther’s Skull dating back to around 1756. He then expressed these strong sacred symbols in his Essentials jewellery line.

The selection of contemporary designers is a key element in the marketing structure of the Manufactory, and the pros and cons of a collaboration are always carefully weighed up. Ambassadors in a network of leading figures from the art world help the company make the decisions. The innovative input from these famous figureheads also draws younger buyers who then go on to discover the classic porcelain objects.

Ted Muehling, Monogram Edition Ted Muehling, Monogram Edition | © Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg Long gone are the days when it was just traditionalists and collectors who showed a preference for historic designs – even in the purist atmosphere of Berlin’s loft scene elaborately decorated Cumberland plates are now quite common on the dining table.

Sophisticated, with a conscious awareness of tradition and a feel for modernism

Christian Lacroix, Julia, Commedia Couture Edition Christian Lacroix, Julia, Commedia Couture Edition | © Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg Under the management of Prinz Luitpold von Bayern since 2011, the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg continues to prosper. New markets are opening up, especially in China, where old craftsmanship skills are gradually becoming scarce and where the opulently decorated Nymphenburg porcelain objects are extremely popular. Nevertheless, growth strategies are only being pursued with careful consideration. With its current workforce of 80 employees the Manufactory wishes to set forth its philosophy that supports a culture of craftsmanship. For instance, an apprenticeship in the individual craft trades at the Manufactory takes three years to complete. It then takes five times as long again before the young talent have acquired the skills to produce one of the masterpieces.

To demonstrate its role as promoter of the porcelain avant-garde and to show that “white gold” has not lost its magic in the 21st century, the Manufactory committed fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Christian Lacroix and Elie Saab to design a new attire for Franz Anton Bustelli’s Commedia dell’Arte figures – the ensemble considered the most elegant in porcelain history.