For more than 150 years,
Hungary has had a high quality and innovative ceramics factory,
the Zsolnay Manufactory of Pécs in southwest Hungary. Founded
in 1853, the factory has made significant contributions to the
country's artistic and economic well being. Founded by Miklos
Zsolnay and operated by his family for decades, Zsolnay has
from the beginning shared in Hungary's political ups and downs.
Starting out as a small factory making stoneware and earthenware,
the Zsolnay Manufactory gradually brached out into art pottery,
architectural ceramics, industrial goods, and other fields.
It became known for its technological prowess, inventing special
types of clay like porcelain faience, glazes like its eosin
metallic luster, ornamentation techniques, and a ceramic material
called pyrogranite for architectural use which was impervious
to weather and pollution. Miklos' oder son Ignac managed the
factory from its inception in 1853 through 1865 at which time
Vilmos Zsolnay, the younger son, took over and managed the operation
until his death in 1900. By the 1870s, Zsolnay's art division
was making ornate decorative objects, blending historical motifs
along with those of nature and peasant art.
While the company won
recognition at the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in 1874 and
elsewhere, the great days of the factory's art pottery production
came at the turn of the 20th century when the Austro-Hungarian
Empire was still intact. Zsolnay, affected by international
trends, shifted from its traditional native and historical designs
to the new Art
Nouveau style in about 1897 and achieving worldwide acclaim.
Many Zsolnay vases made during this period incorporated an hourglass
curve that suggested the female form and bulged somewhat at
the bottom. Highly prized among collectors is the red iridescent
glaze developed by chemist Vinsce Wartha (1844-1914) and the
gold lustre for which the factory was well known.
After the end of World
War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in ruins and the factory
lost its access to raw materials and external markets. During
the period after World War II, the company's artistic expression
suffered under the Communist regime and the Zsolnay family-
seen as catering to bourgeois tastes, was ousted and persecuted.
The plant was renamed the Pecs Porcelain Factory and became
part of a state conglomerate turning out industrial products.
By the 1950s, the Communist control began to loosen and Zsolnay
regained its artistic creativity. Designer Victor Vasarely returned
from Paris and made a sculpture from Zsolnay tiles in 1974.
In 1983, Eva Zeisel visited her homeland and worked for a time
at the factory designing vases, candleholders, and other containers
using the eosin glaze. Many Zsolnay tiles and architectural
elements survived the war in Budapest and elsewhere, and the
examples at the Hungarian National Academy of Music and Dramatic
Arts (1904-1907) and the exquisitely tiled dome, roofs, facades,
and interiors of the Museum of Applied Arts (1893) are among
the best. The factory continues in operation today largely still
under state ownership and has established an art pottery studio
to produce limited edition objects and architectural ceramics
for contemporary buildings.
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