Vienna Porcelain Factory Solitaire service

The Vienna Porcelain Factory was only the second manufactory in Europe after Meissen to produce true hard-paste porcelain. The factory was founded in 1718 by the Austrian court official Claudius I du Paquier. After initial experiments, porcelain production began in 1719 when Samuel Stözel, the kiln master from the Meissen factory, arrived in Vienna, bringing with him closely guarded technical secrets perfected at the Saxon manufactory. Although the du Paquier factory produced extremely attractive porcelains in an imaginative Baroque taste, financially it was never very successful, and in 1744 the factory was sold to Empress Maria Theresa, transforming it into a State concern. During the State period the factory produced high-quality figures and tablewares, often influenced by products of the Meissen factory and, later, Sèvres in France. The factory began to go into decline in the early nineteenth century and was closed in 1864.

High-quality tea, coffee and chocolate wares were an important part of the Vienna factory’s production through the second half of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. Viennese fashions for taking such hot beverages shared similarities with French, as opposed to English, customs. In particular, the habit of taking tea, coffee or chocolate in the solitude of one’s cabinet or boudoir led to the creation of services known as solitaires, containing the requisite equipment for a single person to partake of these expensive imported beverages. The solitary consumption of these hot drinks, often accompanied by pastries, was also associated with breakfast in court and aristocratic contexts, and so these single-person services were also sometimes known as déjeuners (from the French word for breakfast).

The present Vienna solitaire includes a serving tray, or tablette, a cup and saucer, a hot water jug, a milk jug and a basket for crystal sugar, all decorated with painted and gilded borders and superbly painted scenes of exotic birds. The components of the service are contained in the original custom-made, red silk-lined, gilt-stamped morocco leather case with a fitted interior. A service of this type could have been used to take any hot drinks – tea, coffee or chocolate – and a silver teapot, coffee pot or chocolate pot would have been used with the porcelain to serve the beverage itself.

The influence of French fashions on Viennese elites reflected by the solitaire service is emphasised by the forms of the porcelain vessels, which are derived from examples produced at the Sèvres factory, rather than from Meissen models. The extremely finely painted decoration of exotic birds also probably depends upon the sort of bird painting fashionable at Sèvres during the 1760s. Services like this, which are contained within a special fitted case, are sometimes referred to as travelling services. It seems clear, however, that often such boxed services were intended for display within a domestic interior. The lack of wear on any of the components reinforces the idea that such high-quality services were intended more as objects of display, indicating their owner’s status, than as objects for daily use.

Matthew Martin, Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2015)