As thin as eggshell
Spring, 1900. In Paris, the huge tide of visitors for the newly opened World Expo rolls in. All the latest products and inventions from all over the world were there to be admired. One of the Dutch pavilions was remarkably busy. The Haagsche Plateelfabriek Rozenburg was presenting its latest creation: a collection of vases, tankards and crockery in wafer-thin and finely painted porcelain. The public loved it and the press overflowed with praise. The first stock sold out within a week. The new product, soon known as ‘eggshell porcelain’, became an international success.
At that time, the renowned Rozenburg earthenware factory had been operating for about seventeen years. As early as 1883 to 1889, the factory managed to attract attention with innovative pottery under the directorship of Wilhelm Wolff Freiherr von Gudenberg. The flamboyant shapes and colourful decorations designed by Theodoor Colenbrander generated widespread excitement and also marked a turning point in the Dutch ceramics industry, which until then had focused on the tried and trusted traditional Delft Blue. After both Von Gudenberg and Colenbrander left in 1889, the company lost direction for a while, until 1894 when architect Jurriaan Kok was appointed aesthetic consultant and promoted to director a year later. With him came unbridled enthusiasm.
It was Kok who came up with the idea of making porcelain. The experiments took two years. After countless setbacks, in June 1899 the factory was finally able to preview the first successful results for a select group. The reviewer from the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad couldn’t stop gushing about it: ‘We saw a collection of objects (...) of the purest, flawless milky white, decorated with stylised chrysanthemums, tulips and other flowers. Enthralled and transported by delight, we took a closer look and were convinced that the pâte by itself can rival its famous predecessors from Japan, Saxony and France in translucency and lightness. What a richness of colour coupled with such a tasteful decoration!’
But not everyone was so enthusiastic. In the typically Dutch ‘acting-normal-is-already-mad-enough’ circles, the decorations were compared to ‘Toorop’s crazy hairstyles’, the plume-shaped covers with ‘flakes of shaving foam’.
However, the eggshell porcelain’s enormous success at the World Exhibition in Paris turned out to be short lived. Nevertheless, Rozenburg would supply the delicate product until the company was liquidated in 1914. Due to the high breakage rate during firing, the objects are very expensive and only the wealthy can afford them.