Seized by the Nazis and survived Dresden... Meissen porcelain sells at Bonhams

Rare surviving items from the world-famous collection of Meissen porcelain assembled by Gustav and Charlotte von Klemperer from the late 19th century, which miraculously survived Nazi looting and the 1945 bombing of Dresden, are to be auctioned at Bonhams in London on December 8.

Expert Edmund de Waal has written an evocative account of the collection, "Fragments can be more powerful than things kept whole... Pick up the vase made for Augustus the Strong in 1730. It is a shard, but it has survived not just the ferocity of a kiln, but a terrible century. 

"When you pick it up it tells you about beauty, about a family and about survival."

Von Klemperer (1852-1926), chairman of the Dresdner Bank, collected 834 pieces of fine Meissen over a period of three decades and it is commonly considered to have been the greatest ever collection of Meissen porcelain of the modern collecting era. 

Fragments of a very rare Meissen Augustus Rex vase c.1730.

After his death it passed to his descendants, before being seized by the Nazis after Kristallnacht (a campaign of attacks against Germany's Jewish population) in November 1938. The large collection failed to reach a permanent home as debate continued over where to house it.

From 1943 it was stored outside of Dresden, yet inadequate conditions and the danger of the approaching Russians on the Eastern front forced the need for a new home. 

On the night of February 13, 1945 a truck was parked in the palace yard packed with all the pieces - plates, figurines, animals, vases, a chandelier and more, when bombs fell on the city and it was assumed that the entire collection was destroyed. 

It was only after the war, when they sifted through the rubble in the castle courtyard, that museum staff recovered several whole pieces along with numerous fragments of the glorious originals.

Gustav and Charlotte von Klemperer with their family and part of the
collection, Thiergartenstrasse, Dresden, c.1911

"It is miraculous that any of these fragile pieces survived the bombs at all," says Sebastian Kuhn, Bonhams Continental Porcelain specialist. The surviving pieces were incorporated into the historic Dresden State porcelain collection.

In 1991 many of the surviving pieces were returned to the descendants of von Klemperer, who in turn left most of the porcelain in the museum as a gift.  

The descendants comment: "Our family is scattered throughout the globe and rather than distribute small lots to individual family members, we felt these pieces belong together, to be viewed as part of a collection.

"What better place to do this than at the Dresden State porcelain collection, a few hundred metres from where the entire collection was originally housed."

Four fragmentary Meissen figures of miners c.1745 (top); and
restored Meissen harlequin figures c.1740

This auction includes the sale of an additional group of 43 lots from this collection - many of the pieces are restored or in a fragmented condition highly evocative of the traumas of war.

Some plates have been conserved, others are offered in fragments and could be restored in future, and there are figures being sold with their broken heads and missing limbs.

Sebastian Kuhn comments: "These pieces - even those in a fragmentary state - are evidence of the exceptional quality and rarity of the Meissen porcelain owned by Gustav von Klemperer, probably the greatest collector since the 18th century. They are also an evocative reminder of the terrible fate of the collection."


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