New acquisition of a KPM vase from 1836 for the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


On 26 June 2015 the Staatliche Museen’s Kunstgewerbemuseum proudly unveiled an important new acquisition: a large vase, just under 80 cm in height, made by the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM) in Berlin. A panoramic view of Potsdam and Babelsberg is represented on the vase. Executed in the finest porcelain painting, the scenery is a vivid and detailed depiction of the city of Potsdam and the surrounding lake-dotted landscape as they were in the 1830s.

The vase originally formed part of a three-vase set that was commissioned in 1836 by the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III for Duke Ferdinand Philippe d’Orléans, the eldest son of King Louis-Philippe of France. The Prussian king commissioned the ceramic to mark the engagement of the Duke of Orléans to his niece, Duchess Helene zu Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Because this dynastic engagement was reached through the intercession of the Prussian court, the engagement took place in Berlin, in 1836. One of the three vases recently went on sale on the art market and has now been purchased for the Kunstgewerbemuseum. The whereabouts of the other two vases is currently not known.

What makes the vase so special is not so much its size, but the panorama on its surface. Many Potsdam landmarks from the time are clearly recognizable, including the Garnisonkirche and Rathaus, the Zichorienmühle on the edge of Tiefer See, the Marmorpalais on Heiliger See, and the old Glienicke Brücke. Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the latter had only just been completed a short time earlier. Schloss Glienicke, a little further to the east, had also just been converted for Prince Carl of Prussia by Schinkel. There are visible traces of the emerging industrialisation and mechanisation in the idyllic Biedermeier landscape. Factory chimneys stand next to windmills, a steam ship shares the waters with old Havel barges and sailing boats. A closer look at the staffage reveals tiny snapshots of contemporary history. Together they offer us a picture of society that includes a miller and his wife, a pair of artisans carrying a basket, river boatmen, and members of the upper classes out walking. There is a flurry of activity on Glienicke Bridge. The viewer can make out a number of pedestrians and a tiny horse-drawn carriage, on route from Berlin to Potsdam.