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Rising International Competition

From 1720 to 1750, the Delftware industry faced a number of difficulties that challenged the future of the market. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) had serious consequences on the Dutch economy. This war, which mainly took place in the south of the country, embroiled all of the major powers of Europe and created a new order of power. European nations involved included Britain, France, Austria, Spain, Prussia and other German kingdoms, Italian kingdoms, Portugal, and the Netherlands. The Dutch economy was significantly weakened by large debts and experienced a decline in their influence of European affairs. Delft potters later stated in 1748 that the year 1702 was the worst year to date.[1 This comment suggests that the industry experienced a recovery between 1702 and 1748. Although there was a decline in the number of factories by the mid-eighteenth century, there were still over twenty factories in operation in Delft.[2

Petit feu garniture smallAlso, from 1710 the European market saw a rise in competitive faience factories that compromised the leading role of Delftware. One of the most successful was the porcelain produced in Meissen. Oriental porcelain also continued to be a major competitor, as prices for imported Chinese porcelain became much cheaper. New designs and decorations of porcelain imported from the Far East were introduced to the European market. For example, the famille rose and the chine de commande with motifs in grisaille imported from China were very popular.[3

Finally, the increasingly high cost of living made it difficult for the Delft masters to compete on the international stage. Because of the high wages in the Delftware industry, the prices had little competition over the rest of the European ceramic market.

To overcome these difficulties, the potters had to rethink their business model and make some changes. The Delft potters also established several measures to prevent unfair competition. One of the potters’ priorities was to avoid overproduction, which would drop the sales prices and result in a decline of quality. Thus in 1724, the Delft factory owners agreed on a production quota that was outlined in a notarized deed. In the same year, factory owners also agreed to shut down from December 31 to February 1 in order to limit the production.[4

To further prevent competition, a price list for every range of products was established. A minimum sales price was fixed to every type of object produced. Because the agreement was not always respected, price lists were reestablished in 1731, 1741, 1748, and 1778. Also, in order to stimulate sales, it was common for the potters to propose a discount to merchants. The faster the merchant paid his debt toward the factory owner, the higher his discount. During this period, the discounted amount to merchants was restricted to a maximum of two percent.[5

Lastly, the potters decided that the most successful factories would buy out the failing firms in order to limit production capacity. Once bought out, it was forbidden to establish any ceramic production in those premises. The first example of this occurred in 1726 when De Ham (The Ham) factory was purchased by others and was obliged to close. Later, the struggling China factory was purchased and closed in 1740, followed by Het Hooge Huys in 1741, Rouaan (Rouen) and De Vier Romeynse Helden (The four Roman Heroes) in 1742 and Het Gecroond Porceleyn (The Crowned Porceleyn) in 1753.[6

The Delft potters also redesigned their wares to reflect the widespread interest in exotic Eastern styles but also in the newly developed Western repertoire of shapes and motifs. The masters played with different styles and shapes. A few factories such as De Grieksche A (The Greek A) under Johanna van der Heul had initiated the development of new painting techniques, which encouraged the following generation of Delft painters to extend their repertoire with new colors and new styles of decorations. For example, this extraordinary petit feu and gilded garniture set. Marked for Pieter Adriaensz. Kocx, the owner of De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory from 1701 to 1703, or his widow Johanna van der Heul from 1703 until 1722, the seven-piece set was created around 1710. The set comprising a pair of rouleau vases, a pair of bottle-shaped vases, a pair of beaker vases and an ovoid vase are painted in the Japanese Kakiemon color palette of blue, green, iron-red, and gold.

Colorful Imari and Kakiemon Japanese porcelain wares reached the Netherlands between 1660 and 1670. They were immensely popular in the Western market, yielding high prices and inspiring Delft potters to emulate the colorful designs. Delft potters were particularly driven to reproduce the delicate pastels of the Kakiemon porcelains, experimenting with various color and firing techniques to achieve the Japanese style. The so-called petit feu firing was one technique that allowed Delft potters to expand their color palette, and was first used in the early eighteenth century. The technique requires three firings, allowing the potter to use colors that could not withstand high temperatures in the kiln during the second firing (grand feu). The gold and enamel paints were applied after the biscuit firing, followed by the tin glazing and the transparent glaze that added extra gloss. With the petit feu colors on top of the glaze, the objects were fired again at a lower temperature (about 600°C / 1100°F) in a smaller kiln known as the moffeloven (muffle kiln). The painted objects, such as the present garniture, were very colorful and delicate, however the additional firing made them expensive to produce and sell.

Inspired on the Japanese Imari and Kakiemon styles, finely decorated Delftware objects with petit feu colors were created. Japanese Kakiemon porcelain was very exclusive and therefore became a beloved subject for the Delft potters. Objects were produced in a Kakiemon palette often with a typical oriental decoration, as can be seen on this pair of butter tubs. This decoration consists of tied grain sheaves, behind which grow bamboo, pine trees and prunus blossom. A bird is perched on the branches, and sometimes quails or even tigers were painted on the ground. The Delft potters recreated this Kakiemon decoration, but adapted it to their own Western taste. Japanese Kakiemon porcelain is rarely accurately imitated in Delft. Usually the Delft Kakiemon decorations were expanded and painted as full patterns on European forms instead of painting the object only to a limited extent as is common with Japanese Kakiemon. Since the price of a Delftware object was largely determined by the time spent on the paintwork, it makes sense that the Delft painters almost completely decorated their objects. The finer, but especially the fuller a piece was decorated, the more expensive it was.

Set of Six Polychrome and Gilded Petit Feu Heart-Shaped Sweetmeat DishesLater, however, petit feu objects were decorated with European subjects, as can be seen on this pair of petit feu butter tubs from circa 1740 and marked for De Vergulde Astonne (The Gilded Ash Barrels) factory, which is decorated after a Meissen example.[7 The oval tureen with two shell-shaped tab handles have a lightly ribbed lower body entwined with a green foliate garland and are painted on either side with flowering peonies. Both the stands as the covers are painted with a gilt-edged cartouche of sailboats near turreted building. In the first half of the eighteenth century the technique of petit feu firing was introduced in Delft to enable pieces to be decorated in fragile enamels, such as shades of pink and heightened in gold. The inspiration was from Meissen porcelain, initially with chinoiserie decoration, but by the 1740s the taste had turned towards scenes of fashionable European figures in landscapes in the manner of the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). This change in taste also coincided with the evolving etiquette of table arrangements and dining. In order to welcome guests to a more abundantly-laid table, the shapes and sizes of tablewares grew larger and more elaborate, reflected particularly in the evolution of form and decoration of butter tubs and tureens, the most important and impressive pieces in any service. Butter dishes were indispensable in Dutch households, where at least one meal a day was cold and based on bread and butter. According to Van Dam 2004, p. 155, no. 102, butter tubs were, like barrels, originally made from wooden staves bound together with stripped willow, and these shapes were copied in Dutch Delftware.

Although the economy was no longer flourishing, there was still a limited market for expensive luxury items. For example, the production of many finely decorated objects painted with petit feu colors reached its peak between 1730 and 1740. A set of six polychrome and gilded petit feu heart-shaped sweetmeat dishes from circa 1740 also shows the influence of Meissen porcelain in the use of colors and the execution of the decoration. After 1720, the factory of Meissen set the trend in European ceramics. A particular influence seen on this Delftware set was Johan Gregor Herold, who was trained as a miniature painter and enameler on copper and was later appointed to take charge of the decorating atelier at the Meissen works. Herold not only improved the range of colored enamels for painting, but many ground colors as well. These technical achievements secured Herold a leading position in European ceramic history.

Despite the difficult time, there remained a portion of wealthy clients who could afford such exceptional pieces, which helped to fuel the industry in the face of competition and hardship.


E.S. Bergvelt, M.A. Jonker, A. Wiechmann (ed.), Burgers verzamelen 1600-1750, Schatten in Delft, Zwolle/Delft (Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof) 2002, p. 153
C. Lahaussois (ed.), Delfts aardewerk, Amsterdam 2008, p. 148
M.S. van Aken-Fehmers, L.A. Schledorn, A.- G. Hesselink, T.M. Eliëns, Delfts aardewerk. Geschiedenis van een nationaal product, Volume I, Zwolle/Den Haag (Gemeentemuseum) 1999, p. 48
J.D. van Dam, Delffse Porceleyne, Dutch Delftware 1620-1850, Zwolle/Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum), 2004, p. 134
C. Lahaussois (ed.), Delfts aardewerk, Amsterdam 2008, p. 148-151

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