Johann Gottlieb Kirchner, modeler (1706–?)
Great Bustard, 1732
Height 33 in. (83.8 cm)
The Arnhold Collection
Location: Garden Court
A remarkable Meissen porcelain figure of a Great Bustard, nearly three feet in height, is on view in the museum’s contemplative Garden Court, adjacent to rooms featuring examples of Henry Clay Frick’s taste for eighteenth-century French porcelain from the Sèvres manufactory. This extended loan (and promised gift) from The Arnhold Collection is a reminder of one of the most ambitious projects undertaken at Meissen: a porcelain menagerie of life-size animals and birds conceived as interior decoration for the king’s Japanese Palace. Several hundred such figures were commissioned though less than three hundred were successfully fired before the project was abandoned. This superb example was a gift to Heinrich Arnhold in 1935 and is today part of one of the greatest surviving intact collections of early Meissen assembled in the twentieth century.
The bird stands with its head gracefully bent back over its wing and is supported by a tree trunk covered with oak branches, leaves, and acorns. To mold and fire a figure of this size was a technical tour de force. Most such sculptures have a number of firing cracks produced in the kiln, as does this one. The surface has a clear glaze over which unfired oil colors were applied. The colors on most of the sculptures, including the Great Bustard, were later removed. The masterful modeling of this large-scale white sculptural figure is beautifully apparent in the daylight of the Garden Court.