Meissen lovers, €135,000 (£115,385) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

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Hadrian Merkle (1942-2018), a successful businessman in the transport industry, was a keen collector of Meissen porcelain.

His primary interest was the factory’s 18th century figure groups - the sculptural pieces produced by Johann Joachim Kändler and his assistants in the factory workshop. The result of 50 years of assiduous collecting, Merkle’s aim was to amass pieces that encompassed as many different types and characters as possible reflecting life at the Saxon court and beyond at the time.

Buying at auction and through dealers (he regularly attended the specialist ceramics sales in Switzerland, for example), he built up a wide-ranging and impressive ensemble of these 18th century products. Many of them came with provenances to earlier well-known collections.

Variations on a theme

Merkle’s collection is now up for auction over several instalments at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr (28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) in Paris.

Bonhams’ specialist Sebastian Kuhn opted to present the lots on a broadly thematic base with the first part featuring courtly figures and more exotic subjects. Part two, to be offered in October, focuses on the Commedia dell’arte figures and will be followed by a selection featuring trades people and musicians.

The first 55 lots went under the hammer on April 17 and attracted a mix of private collectors and dealers in the room, online and on the phones. They raised a premium-inclusive total of €948,450.

Items that performed better than predicted included several of the top-priced lots such the Meissen group of lovers with a birdcage, the figure of a lady in a crinoline dress and the figure of the court jester Frohlich, which made sums that were multiples of their estimates.

Kuhn said that prior to the auction he had been a bit unsure on how things would go as a big collection of figures had not appeared on the market for some time and there are fewer German buyers than 20 or 30 years ago.

“I put what I thought were prudent estimates for the current market. I was aware that the market was less consistent than it used to be,” he told ATG. “The level of interest was higher than I expected…. the quality of the collection was recognised by the market.”

Rising Asian demand

While there was participation from the trade, most of the successful buyers were private collectors.

Kuhn also noticed that demand for the figure groups in this sale also came from Asian bidders - something of a new trend as buyers from that area have previously been more focused on 19th century pieces and tablewares. It will be interesting to see if this is sustained in future auctions.

“In every field exceptional things will make strong prices,” he added. “Not everything was lifted by virtue of being in this sale,” he observed, but beyond the top lots he was surprised at how strongly some of the pieces performed at the next level: items such as a kakiemon-style dish with a Japanese Palace inventory number or a Japanese figure group of a mother and child.

Lovers enchant

Leading this first instalment of the Merkle sale was a rare group of lovers (pictured top), the man holding a birdcage containing a parrot eating cherries proffered by his companion, a pug dog peeping out from the folds of her apron.

The 8½in (21cm) high group is dated to c.1745 and the model is mentioned in detail in Kändler’s record book where it is described as: “A group, consisting of a man with a birdcage in which there is a parrot, beside him a woman giving the parrot cherries to eat and putting feathers on the man’s head, whereas he presents her with a titmouse.”

Last under the hammer at Christie’s London rooms in 1997, at Bonhams this time it sold for €135,000 (£115,385), over double the top guide of €40,000-60,000.

No pain no gain


Meissen The Gout Sufferer, €22,000 (£18,805) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

Another lot that proved sought after was a rare 5½in (14.25cm) high group of The Gout Sufferer, the porcelain dating from c.1745 but later decorated.

The scene shows a man seated on a bench with two wine bottles and a brazier and a cushion on the stool before him being attended by a kneeling woman.

It is a Kändler and Reinicke model recorded in both sculptors’ work records in 1745 and is based on an engraving of La Courtisanne amoureuse from Jean de La Fontaine’s Contes et nouvelles en vers (Amsterdam 1685), or another of the same title by Pierre Filloeul after Jean-Baptiste Pater, from the series Suite de Larmessin (Paris 1736).

The group was purchased from an auction at Sotheby’s Geneva in 1987. It sold at Bonhams’ Merkle auction for €22,000 (£18,805) against an estimate of €4000-6000.

No joke at that price


Meissen figure of the Dresden court jester Joseph Fröhlich, €60,000 (£51,280) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

Very keen bidding emerged for the 10in (25cm) figure of the Dresden court jester Joseph Fröhlich (1694-1757), a variation shown with an owl perched on his left shoulder, which sailed past its €20,000-30,000 guide to take €60,000 (£51,280).

Fröhlich was born in Austria and began his career as a juggler and jester in 1725, rising to become the Electoral and Royal Court juggler in Dresden and one of the most famous and well-recorded figures in the entourages of the Electors of Saxony and kings of Poland, Augustus the Strong and Augustus III.

His image can be found in a multitude of disciplines in the Dresden State Collections, in paintings by Bellotto, in jewellery and of course in porcelain.

The earliest Meissen porcelain record of Fröhlich is in Kändler’s work reports in September 1736. However, in April 1737, following a visit to Joseph Fröhlich in Dresden, he reworked the head of the figure to make it more life-like. He added an owl to the jester’s shoulder in May 1738 when completing an apparently urgent order for six figures.

Merkle’s figure, inscribed with the gilt date 1739 and initials JF, was previously in the Meissen collections of both EA Treherne (sold at Sotheby’s in 1958) and Sir Henry Tate (sold at Christie’s in March 1995).

Provenance to exceptional collections


Meissen figure of a crinolined lady holding a fan, €100,000 (£85,470) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

Following the birdcage group in price at €100,000 (£85,470), a multiple of its €20,000-30,000 guide, was a very early example of Kändler’s figure models, a 5½in (14cm) high figure of a crinolined lady holding a fan from c.1737.

Based on an engraving published in 1736, the model is first mentioned in Kändler’s work records in December of that year.

This example was previously part of two exceptional US collections of Meissen: that of Charles E Dunlap (sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet in 1975) and the Christner collection, Dallas (sold by Christie’s New York in 1979). It was offered together with a later, 19th century, figure of a man from the Samson factory that was based on a Meissen original model.

Tiger lurks


Meissen dish from August the Strong’s Japanese Palace painted in kakiemon style, €22,000 (£18,805) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

Strong performers from beyond the top price levels in the Merkle auction included the 8½in (22cm) diameter dish of c.1729-31 from August the Strong’s Japanese Palace, painted in kakiemon-style with a tiger curling around bamboo fencing and flowering prunus issuing from a tree-stump known as the Gelber Löwe pattern.

The Gelber Löwe pattern was first produced at Meissen after a Japanese porcelain original as part of the large order placed by the Paris merchant, Rudolph Lemaire, for copies of Asian porcelain. A large quantity of plates and dishes painted in this style were among the porcelain confiscated in April 1731 in the house of Lemaire’s accomplice at the Dresden court, Count von Hoym, and subsequently sent to the Japanese Palace and entered in the inventory under no 8.

The present dish, which features cross-sword marks in blue and an incised Japanese Palace inventory number N=8-/ W, belongs to this group and is therefore one of the earliest examples of this decoration.

An identical early dish with the same Japanese palace inventory mark to the reverse featured in the auction house’s ceramics sale in London in 2014. Then it realised £6000. The Merkle sale example was taken to €22,000 (£18,805), around four times the estimate.

Owned by Saxon statesman


Meissen vase with a flared neck and knopped central section painted with indianische Blumen, a rooster and hen and insects, €48,000 (£41,025) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

The most expensive non-figural piece in the auction was a rare 18¾in (47.5cm) high vase with a flared neck and knopped central section painted with indianische Blumen, a rooster and hen and insects which realised €48,000 (£41,025) where €20,000-30,000 had been predicted.

This piece had a provenance to Heinrich Graf von Brühl (1700-63), Prime Minister of Saxony and director of the Meissen factory, who had a large collection of Meissen including some very monumental-sized dinner services, most famously that known as the Swan service, numbering over 2000 pieces.

This vase featured in the 1926 auction at Cassirer & Helbing which included Meissen porcelain belonging to the Wettin family, the former kings of Saxony, as well as from the heirs of von Brühl, who consigned two vases of this type.

Life study


Meissen group of a Japanese woman and child, €19,000 (£16,240) at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.

Two bidders were absolutely determined to secure a 4in (10cm) Meissen group of a Japanese woman and child dating to c.1745.

Thought to have been modelled by Kändler and his assistant P Reinicke, it is based on an engraving from the series Scenes de la vie Chinoise by Gabriel Huquier after François Boucher of c.1738-45.

The group was estimated at €4000-6000 but ended up making €19,000 (£16,240).