A Selection of Important Ceramics

By and far decorative arts can be the most polarizing art topic for people.  Either they love it or hate it.  For many people ceramics fall into the 'dislike' group.  At the risk of sounding rude, this is usually due to the fact that they don’t understand what it takes to go into creating these multifaceted pieces.  I’m hoping my little article may sway them into the 'like' group, or at least pique some interest.  For those of you who know nothing about ceramics, and want to know more, this is a perfect introduction to the vast world of it.  Once again, this is not a comprehensive list, so if you feel that I have left out anything important to the subject please write to me.

Types of Porcelain

Hard Paste
  • Fired at 1400˚C
  • First made in China during 7th or 8th century
  • Commonly used in Chinese porcelain
  • Bright white appearance
  • Less likely to crack in hot temperatures (e.g. great for teapots)

Soft Paste
  • Fired at 1200˚C
  • European version of Chinese hard paste
  • Main ingredient usually clay
  • Lower firing temperature means more colors can be used (won’t be burned off in the kiln as easily)

  • Fired at < 1200˚C
  • Also known as terracotta
  • Earliest versions date back to 25,000 BCE [1]
  • Basis for Maiolica and Delftware  
  • Also known as stone-paste
  • Name comes from frit being added to clay
  • Most commonly seen in Middle-Eastern countries
  • Bright white appearance (similar to hard paste)

Bone china
  • Composed of bone ash and other materials
  • Strongest form of porcelain
  • Most common in England (even to this day)
  • Well known for its translucent appearance
Biscuit porcelain
  • Also known as bisque porcelain, or just bisque
  • Final version is an unglazed white porcelain (very raw compared to other porcelains)
  • Unglazed since pieces are used for decoration rather than use
  • Basis for Jasperware

European Factories

Bow Porcelain Factory

English (London) (fig. 1)

  • Soft paste porcelain
  • Bone china
  • Rival of Chelsea Porcelain Factory
  • Was in Tower Hamlets (London) moved to Borough of Newham (London)
  • Copied Meissen figures
  • Figures made by pressing the paste into molds
  • Was largest factory in England

Chelsea Porcelain Factory

English (London) (fig. 2)

  • Soft paste porcelain
  • Known for figurines and small decorative objects
  • One of earliest English porcelain factories
  • Inspired by Sèvres


German (fig. 3)

  • First European hard paste porcelain
  • Johann Friedrich Böttger started manufacturing process
  • Friedrich August Köttig introduced signature underglaze ‘Meissen Blue’
  • Erenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus invented the porcelain


English (Staffordshire) (fig. 4)

  • Earthenware then bone china
  • Operated: 1793-1968
  • Leading English porcelain factory during Victorian Era
  • Founded by Thomas Minton


French (fig. 5)

  • Soft paste porcelain (using frit method)
  • Production from late 17th-mid 18th c.
  • Named after city the factory resided in
  • Philippe I Duc d’Orleans gave ok for factory to start
  • Recognizable for blue and white Chinese patterns


French (fig. 6)

  • Soft paste porcelain, but known for hard paste productions
  • Factory established 1740, but bought by Louis XV in 1760 (royal production)
  • Wallace Collection has some of most important pieces
  • Main competitor & was higher valued to Meissen


English (fig. 7)

  • Perfected transfer printing technique
  • Considered original creator or producer of bone china


English (fig. 8)

fig. 1 Bow Porcelain Factory
fig. 2 Chelsea Porcelain Factory
fig. 3 Meissen
fig. 4 Mintons

fig. 5 Saint-Cloud
fig. 6 Sèvres
fig. 7 Spode
fig. 8 Wedgwood


[1] Rice, Prudence M. (March 1999). "On the Origins of Pottery". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 6 (1): 1–54.


The French Porcelain Society [website]

The Oriental Ceramics Society [website]

The V&A Ceramics Collection [link]

The Wallace Collection [link]

The British Museum, Blue and White Porcelain [link]

The British Museum, Sir Percival David Collection [link]

Image Credits  

fig. 1 Flora, c. 1762, Bow Porcelain Factory, private collection [link]

fig. 2 Plate, c. 1755, with three vignette scenes from Aesop's Fables, Chelsea, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts [link]

fig. 3 Teapot, c. 1724-25, Meissen, Walters Art Museum [link]

fig. 4 Jug with dancing medieval figures, 1868, Mintons, Copper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum  [link]

fig. 5 Soft porcelain water pot c. 1725 with silver mount 1726-1732, Saint-Cloud, Musee des Arts Decoratifs [link]

fig. 6 Vase with candleholders, c. 1760, Sèvres porcelain manufactory, Waddesdon Manor (National Trust) [link]

fig. 7 Dish, 1831, Spode Ceramics Works, V&A Museum [link]

fig. 8 Tripod Vase, c. 1805, Wedgwood, Brooklyn Museum [link]

Main image: Inkstand with Apollo and the Muses, 1584, Workshop of the Patanazzi family (Italian, active ca. 1580–1620), The Metropolitan Museum of Art [link]

Note: All views and opinions expressed are the author's own. If you feel there is missing information or wish to discuss any of the works please contact me.