Rosenthal China’s Modernist Masters

Left) Rosenthal’s moderne designs fared well through the Art Deco 1930s, when their dancer and animal figures
ranked among the era’s best, and 5000 workers produced high quality china.

Right) 180 piece vintage dinnerware set by Rosenthal available for $999.00 from space #36 in Star Center Antique Mall.
12 additional
pictures of the set are below article.

From our Summer Issue of The Antique Quarterly
Someday, the term ‘20th Century Modernism’ will connote an original period of design, just as early 19th century objects are currently defined as part of the Regency or Empire periods.

Phillip Rosenthal explained this when he recounted why his namesake porcelain firm chose to work exclusively with artists and designers devoted to creating the original designs of their time. “Throughout history, works of art and purely functional objects retain their cultural and material value only when they reflect the spirit of their age…imitations never achieve this,” Rosenthal proclaimed.

Though Rosenthal China seems on the surface to represent many styles—formal and classic to pop-art and clean minimalism—the firm has insisted from the start on setting trends and breaking with tradition. Maria Rosenthal’s success in hand painting Hutschenreuther china in the 1880s led her and her husband to set up their own factory around 1890, eclipsing the competition’s tired Victorian revival styles by introducing elegant, fresh Art Nouveau porcelaintableware blanks. Moss Rose, Diplomat and other early Rosenthal floral lines seem fancy and traditional now, but only because they were trend-setters whose success compelled much mimicry.

Rosenthal’s moderne designs fared well through the Art Deco 1930s, when their dancer and animal figures ranked among the era’s best, and 5000 workers produced high quality china. But WWII nearly destroyed Germany’s centuries-old porcelain industry, first cutting it off from its worldwide customer base, then leaving its factories in ruins.

Phillip Rosenthal, Jr. returned to Germany after the war and restored Rosenthal’s pre-eminence by introducing modern shapes and designs by modern artists and designers. Walter Gropius designed two new Rosenthal factory buildings in accordance with the precise, worker-focused, minimalist principles he developed as a godfather of the Bauhaus style, along with a line of ultra-streamlined dinnerware and beverage servers called TAC in honor of The Architect’s Collaborative group he co-founded.

The late 1940’s saw Rosenthal hire Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer famed for the hourglass Coke bottle, Studebaker’s bullet-nosed cars and the interior of NASA’s Skylab. Loewy introduced Classic Modern White (aka Shape 2000 Line), whose stylish coupe (rimless) plates, tight-waisted carafes, inverted cone cups and candlesticks with integrated, flared bobeches were so predictive of 21st century living that many remain in production today. Offered in pure white, they also could be ordered decorated with a series of Loewy-designed transfer patterns, including avant-garde Script and Sunburst abstractions, the festive green/lavender Plaza line reflective of Loewy’s French roots, and sophisticated pastel Classic Rose, Quince and Gayety floral patterns.

Loewy added Form E and other more bulbous designs during his long run at Rosenthal, all in adherence to the ethos of clean, sparse modernism and top quality. But the angular Classic design was the achievement most reinterpreted by a “who’s who” of mid-century modern designers who adorned it with their own designs. Emilio Pucci, Gianni Versace, artists Otmar Alt and Roy Lichtenstein all offered patterns to Rosenthal. Porcelain master Bjorn Winblad’s Idyll brocade line and Piero Fornasetti’s iconic, architectural Palladrana exemplified the all-over transfer patterns of 1960s and 70s Rosenthal China. Winblad added a series of commemorative gift plates based on Die Zauberfloete (Magic Flute) and other stylized folk characters similar to his work in Denmark. Fornasetti lent his stark facial and body images comprised of black dots to an extensive collection of wall plates crafted on the Classic coupe blank.

Suomi White blanks by Finnish designer Timo Sarpeneva added a squarish, geometric line to Rosenthal, the new blanks winning a gold metal from Italy’s famous Faience porcelain jurors and becoming the basis of a scarce artist series in 1978. Salvador Dali’s silver-on-charcoal line of surrealistic birds, Eduardo Paolozzi’s neo-deco pastel geometric bands, Victor Vasarely’s interlocking cubes and Ernst Fuch’s brush-stroked multicolor birds adorned Rosenthal ice buckets, snack bowls and teapots, in limited editions numbering around 500 pieces world-wide.

This Studio-Linie series created a platform for other designers to add giftware, vases, barware and other china blanks to the Rosenthal spectrum over the past three decades. Corporate giftware and institutional lines also add to the Rosenthal story, with special collector focus on the Royal Ambassador services that graced the first-class cabins of now-defunct TWA Airlines.

Today, the firm still designs high-end china in concert with today’s design and fashion leaders, including neo-classic styles by Versace, the eccentric shapes and pop-art colors of the Love Story and Andy Warhol’s Daisies lines, and the oblong e.Motion pattern based on computer-era design.

Though Rosenthal’s limited edition designer pieces are difficult to find, house-proud collectors may be surprised how easily and inexpensively a nice set of their dinnerware can be assembled. A favorite gift from G.I.’s stationed in Germany, Rosenthal sets quickly became popular for stylish dining in 20th century America, and were advertised here in better living magazines as stylish, durable and (in white or transferware) dishwasher safe. Their 1956 tag line reflects their ongoing commitment to timeless design and impeccable quality: “Rosenthal…for the rest of your life."
by George Higby, ISA

180 Piece Rosenthal Dinnerware Set
Reminiscent of earlier makes such as Limoges or Old Ivory, this 180 piece set of Rosenthal porcelain gold trimmed dinnerware is in fantastic overall condition with a beautiful floral transfer design.  Fully marked, it is priced at $999.00 (make an offer!) from space #36 in Star Center Antique Mall in Snohomish, WA.

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