On occasion of the Prussian Sale we have divided the timespan between 1701 and 1918 into chapters, introducing their most influential players, commentators, and styles. Take a look and let us surprise you!
In the hearts and minds of many Prussian citizens and soldiers, the German Campaign that freed the land from Napoleon’s army carried an implicit promise of increasing liberty for all. However, the expectations placed on King Frederick William III’s constitution were soon disappointed. Instead of providing the long awaited political franchise, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, the powers-that-be gathered together at the Congress of Vienna 1815 to form the so-called Holy Alliance, effectively signing a pact against the increasingly democratic tendencies amongst the lower and middle-classes. Hopes harboured at the time that a German state might be established to spell the end of princely rule were also disappointed. The much-anticipated changes failed to manifest, and Prussia too became caught up in the “long 19th century”. In the following decades, cries for more democracy and equality in the state were silenced by increasingly harsh repression. Whether out of necessity, battle fatigue, or true conviction, people increasingly retreated from the public to the private realm in order to at least enjoy a little of the long-awaited peace.
Peace, wealth, and order are the qualities evoked in the décor of the eagle-handled vase under lot 236. The promised Arcady is built upon the strength of the mighty Prussian eagle, which forms the foundation of a “golden age”. The palmette and acanthus borders surrounding the scene awaken associations of a Classical past. Such analogies to Classical painting and decor can also be found in the equally opulent footed bowl under lot 253, which was also made as a royal presentation. In this time, KPM developed a special form of landscape painting that catapulted them to their place as the leading manufactory in Europe. Several exceptional products of this era can be found in this catalogue: Depictions of the Linden Boulevard in Berlin (lot 234), views of Potsdam (lot 236), and of the Nikolskoe chalet (lot 235). The height of these developments can be seen in the 360° panorama of Unter den Linden depicted on the krater form vase under lot 245. The vase shows both Schlü- ter’s facades of the Zeughaus and City Palace, as well as the newer buildings of the King’s Guard House and the palace bridge. This vase introduces us to Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Prussian architect and city planner whose designs were to shape this era like no other.
Alongside architecture, Schinkel was also active as a theatre planner and interior designer. The Neoclassical chandelier (lot 208) was created after one of his many designs, as were the rare and important salon chair (lot 239), a pair of small wall appliques (lot 241), a Berlin frame (lot 240), and – in a slightly abstracted form – the cast iron gueridon (lot 278).
Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s works as an architect can also be admired in this catalogue. For example in the form of a vase with a view of Babelsberg Castle near Potsdam (lot 286), the first construction phase of which Schinkel was responsible for. Schinkel planned the palace in the English Neo-Gothic style for the second-born son Frederick William III, who later became King William I, and his wife Augusta. Another example, this time more of an architectural detail, was the flying buttress connecting the Prinzessinnenpalais and the Kronprinzenpalais, which can be seen on the large vase under lot 287 and was also designed by Schinkel.
The financial upsurge of this era was largely thanks to Prussia’s war heroes, such as the “Ever-Lucky” General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow, who never lost a single battle in the wars against Napoleon and was celebrated as the saviour of Berlin (lot 285). Frederick William III created the Order of the Iron Cross in 1813, which was awarded for extraordinary military service. The order served to strengthen the morale of his troops, and was revolutionary in that it was awarded to officers, sergeants, and privates alike. Coincidentally, the Iron Cross was also designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who at the time was relatively unknown in his role as Privy Buildings Assessor.
This chapter also includes numerous items in “fer de Berlin”, such as an elegant collier (lot 200). It serves as an example not only of the refinement and technical possibilities of iron casting at this time in Berlin, but also of the patriotic attitude of its wearer, under the motto: I gave gold for iron. Advancing industrialisation in Prussia brought fundamental changes to both state and society, and provided new artistic opportunities for the Berlin iron casting sector. Berlin and the Prussian heartlands, which were poor in natural resources, benefitted greatly from the mining industries of Silesia and the Rhineland provinces. Without these resources, the development of the fundamental infrastructure necessary for the new era, in the form of railways, would never have been possible in the same speed and dimensions. The opening of the Berlin-Hamburg railway line in 1846 was celebrated with cast iron New Year’s plaques like the one under lot 279. Nowadays, you are more likely to come across Hamburg Station in discussions of contemporary art, but its Neoclassical building is also an impressive testimony to Prussian history.