Of the approximately 30 ceramics factories in the city of Delft towards the end of the 17th century The Greek A was surely one of the most innovative and international. They had of course ample funding as they could count King William and especially his wife Queen Mary among their enthusiastic clientele. In their 200 year existence the factory had several owners, many of them related, and the generations handed down the pursuit of perfection. Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam, specialists in Delftware, dedicates an online exhibition
to this factory, viewable from Sunday June 16th around midday CET.
The Greek A
In 1658 Wouter van Eenhoorn began pottery production in the former brewery known as De Griex A on the Geer near De Metaale Pot (The Metal Pot) factory, creating what was to become a dynastic business and the most successful of all the early Delft factories. Although it is not certain whether Wouter used a mark on his products, he lost no time in establishing his factorys reputation for superb craftsmanship, even referring to his wares as porcelain. It was for just such fine quality oriental imitations that De Grieksche A factory received a commission in 1667 from the city of Delft to make several porcelain pieces for the wife of the Swedish ambassador extraordinaris in Holland.
The factorys early and continuing success was in large part the result of Wouter van Eenhoorns international contacts, which extended from Amsterdam to London, Hamburg and Bordeaux. By the end of the 1650s, he had already transacted business in France through the merchant brothers Claude and François Révérend, who ten years later were in arrears to De Grieksche A, causing Wouter to enlist the help of his brother-in-law Willem Cleffius of De Metaale Pot in an attempt to effect payment. In 1674 Wouter installed his son Samuel, who had just been admitted to the Guild of Saint Luke, as his shopkeeper, in charge of the foreign orders, and the records indicate that within a year De Grieksche A had established a contact in Rouen, the bustling center of Frances faience industry.
Shortly before his death in 1678, Wouter gave De Grieksche A to Samuel as a wedding present. The inventory lists of Wouters estate made in 1679 hint at his financial success: among his 47 paintings were still lifes, seascapes and two portraits of Wouter and his wife Christine Lambrechtsdr. Cruijck, the older sister of the wife of Willem Cleffius of De Metaale Pot; in the dining area the chimneypiece was ornamented with seven large Delft chargers, and there were twelve walnut chairs around the long table. Wouters estate also included his co-ownership of De Drie Posteleyne Astonne factory, but his heirs chose not take their shares of this business, deciding instead to turn it over to Wouters partner, Gerrit Pietersz. Kam.
Samuel van Eenhoorn's ownership corresponds to the beginning of the Delftware Golden Age. Samuel ran De Grieksche A factory by himself for seven prosperous years, during which he is known to have enjoyed the patronage of the House of Orange, as evidenced by archaeological excavations at Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, which have unearthed garden ornaments and flower vases, the so-called tulipieres marked SVE.
Technologically, he improved and refined the wares of the factory, and to the limited palette of cobalt-blue in various shades he introduced manganese-purple, which initially was used effectively to outline and define the decoration. He also supplied an important voice for the Delft master potters and shop-owners as a member of the three-man delegation (with Lambertus Cleffius of De Metaale Pot and Quirijn Aldersz. Kleijnoven [or van Cleijnhoven] of De Porceleyne Fles [The Porcelain Bottle] factory) dispatched to England in 1684 to protest and effect a rescission of the 1672 embargo on the importation of Dutch Delftware, which England had placed in order to support her own striving Delftware industry. Although the embargo was never lifted officially, it was ignored for the major royal and noble commissions, so was rendered largely ineffective, and the trade with England continued and prospered.
Upon the death of Samuel van Eenhoorn in 1685, his widow Cecilia Houwaert inherited the business and ran it for a bit more than a year before selling the factory and its accoutrements to her brother-in- law Adrianus Kocx (who had married Samuels sister Judith) a sale for which the arbiter was Lambertus Cleffius, her husbands first cousin and the owner of De Metaale Pot. Kocx, the master potter and merchant, who was admitted to the Guild of Saint Luke as a shopkeeper in 1687, must have considered Lambertus Cleffius more of a cousin and friend than a rival, because together they negotiated to enlarge their French market by putting under contract two Parisian agents who were permitted to sell only the products of De Grieksche A and De Metaale Pot with the proviso that the Parisians had the first choice of the merchandise, and Kocx and Cleffius could not deal with any other merchants within 30 miles (approximatively 50 km.) of Paris. By 1693 this arrangement had been dissolved, but both factories continued to thrive, De Grieksche A enjoying the patronage of the most important clientele, including the King-Stadholder William III of Orange and Queen Mary II, to whom vases and other ornamental wares decorated with the royal cipher were delivered, many of them intended for use at the royal residence of Hampton Court Palace in Richmond-upon- Thames.
In 1701, just prior to his death that year, Adrianus Kocx gave a festive dinner for the entire staff of De Grieksche A to celebrate his transfer of the factory to his son Pieter Adriaensz. Kocx. Only two years later in 1703 Pieter died and his widow Johanna van der Heul took over the business, paying homage to her husband by continuing to use his mark PAK on her highest quality products. A qualified potter and a thoroughly competent manager, who surrounded herself with talented employees, by 1713 Johanna had in her employ four gold painters whose contracts gave her the exclusive rights to their work as long as she owned the factory. It is with the most important, if eccentric, of these gold painters, Ariaa(e)n [or Ary] van Rijsselberg(h), that the mark AR is generally associated.
De Grieksche A is one of the rare examples of a factory that persisted in its fame and popularity throughout the Golden Age of Dutch Delftware. For more than sixty years, the factory was managed by members of the same family. In 1722, Johanna van der Heul sold the factory to Jacob van der Kool, who was also the owner of the successful Het Oude Moriaanshooft, which he sold when he acquired De Grieksche A. Coming from a family of potters, he was very familiar with the Delftware milieu. His grandfather Jacobus Willemsz. and older brother had run De Drie Flessies factory. When he died in 1733, his wife Cornelia van Willigen overtook the factory and continued to use her husbands mark.
With Cornelia van Willigen at the helm, the factory enjoyed international popularity, with merchants coming from Hamburg, Cologne and Paris. Van Willigen died in 1757, and the inventory that was made shortly after shows that she was extremely wealthy. It also illustrated the breadth of her production; the inventory lists hundreds, even thousands of single pieces of decorative faience like east Indian plates, animal figurines: roosters, cows and horses, and household objects such as 2133 dozen matching tea sets, back of clothes brushes, oil and vinegar cruets, strawberry dishes and saucers, 120 cuspidors, etc.
De Grieksche A was bought by Jacob van der Kool and Cornelia Willigens son-in-law, Jan Theunis Dextra (also-called Dextra De Jonge) in 1758. Objects bearing his mark are very rare. In the 1764 city council marks book, Dextra declared that his mark was only used for his best pieces (achter mijn beste goederen). For some other goods, the letter D was applied. This strategy suggests that Dextra used different commercial tactics in selling his goods. Although Dextra was a very talented potter and savvy businessman, he owned the factory only a short time. When he purchased De Grieksche A, he already harbored doubts about the future of the Delftware industry. In a document dated December 16, 1757 he explained that despite a widespread domestic and foreign network and a large stock, selling a Delftware factory was becoming increasingly difficult. In 1764, he renounced his ownership and sold the company. He continued however to work as a foreman for the factory. De Grieksche A was then purchased by Jacobus Adriaansz. Halder, whose style was characterized by the popular rococo designs of the era. Four years later, the factory came into the hands of the Van den Briel family. Jan van den Briel married Petronella van der Laan who inherited the factory upon his death in 1783. In 1786 an anonymous shopkeeper was registered. The shopkeeper may have been a man named Pieter Jansz. van Marksveld because that same year, Pieter and Petronella were married. They are believed to have managed De Grieksche A together until she died in 1794 and her daughter Elisabeth van den Briel and Pieter Jansz. van Marksveld obtained the factory by joint inheritance.10 In 1796 Pieter then gained full ownership and in the same year became master within the Guild of Saint Luke.
Delftware has been a national symbol of Holland for almost 400 years. Initiated by the demand for the waning importation of Oriental porcelain from the 1640s, Delftware quickly became an iconic national product and one of the greatest Dutch achievements. From the 1680s the Delftware industry has constantly innovated with new shapes, decorations and functions. Their products were coveted by European nobility and royalty for their quality and diversity. The city of Delft rapidly became an inspiration to many European and even Oriental potters. Since 1881, over five generations of the Aronson family have brought to market the highest quality Delftware. Aronson confidently ensures that private collectors and museum and corporate curators will discover fully researched authentic Delftware.
In the first half of the 15th century, mercantile cities such as Brugge (Bruges) and Antwerp in the southern Netherlands (now Belgium) became familiar with earthenware from southern Europe through both trade and political contacts with Italy, Spain and Portugal. This earthenware was exported by Spain and Italy to the northwestern European commercial centers often by sea.
One of the maritime trade routes passed through the Spanish island of Mallorca, from which the name maiolica developed for a certain type of glazed pottery. Dutch Maiolica is an earthenware product coated with a tin glaze on the front or exterior and a highly translucent lead glaze on the back or base. Maiolica dishes were fired face down on three spurs that often left marks which remained visible in the central design. In Italy the city of Faenza was a well known center for the production of earthenware that came to be called faience by the French. It was slightly more refined than maiolica and distinguished from it in that the earthenware body was completely covered on the front and back with a whiter tin glaze. Also, faïence dishes were fired with the image upward so the spur marks appeared on the back or underside.
By the middle of the 15th century, largely through the gradual migration of potters from southern Europe through France to the Netherlands, the earthenware industry had become well established in Antwerp. At this time the Guild of Saint Luke was founded an artisans guild which eventually would extend throughout the Netherlands and would exist for many centuries. The books of the guild reveal that by the end of the 15th century several Italian maiolica- and faience-makers in Antwerp had become extremely successful.
In the second half of the 16th century, under religious pressure, many of the reformists and Protestants were forced to leave Antwerp. Most moved to London, Hamburg or the northern Netherlands and specifically to the city of Haarlem (the city after which New Yorks Harlem was named) near Amsterdam. One of the families in Haarlem who operated a successful potting business were the Verstraetens, who produced wares in the maiolica (or majolica) tradition. A quarrel in 1642 between Willem Jansz. Verstraeten and his son Gerrit split the market. The elder Verstraeten continued making the old-fashioned majolica and the son ventured into the more modern faience, which was more thinly potted and bore a closer resemblance to the imported Chinese porcelain wares that were becoming so sought-after.
The rise of the potting industry in Haarlem occurred simultaneously with the decline of the beer brewing industry in the town of Delft. As the Delft brewers ceased production at the beginning of the 17th century because the towns canal water had become too polluted to be used to make a potable brew, their large abandoned buildings on the canals were quickly occupied by the pottery-makers, who could utilize both the space and the convenient water source for the working of their clays and for the transportation of their raw materials and finished wares.
At precisely the same time and throughout the 17th century, the Dutch developed a dominance in the European trade with China through which they imported large cargoes of luxury goods, including the much-coveted blue and white porcelain. By the middle of the century, however, a war in China interrupted the production and exportation to the Netherlands of Chinese porcelain, which declined from a quarter million pieces per year to a mere trickle. The potters in Delft seized the opportunity to fill the void, and they began producing earthenwares in emulation of Chinese porcelain, which they successfully marketed as porcelain.
Within the next century and a half, the Delft pottery-makers became so successful, that their products were imitated by many pottery and porcelain factories across Europe and even in the Far East. At the height of production the Guild of Saint Luke counted almost 40 factories in the small city of Delft. Because they were innovative and adaptive to the needs and whims of their varied clientèle, and because of the perseverance of the Delft potters, the elegant term faience has become synonymous with delftware.
Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam
Aronson Antiques, a traditional family business, was founded in 1881 by Leon Aronson (1830-1910), also son of an antiques dealer, in the eastern Dutch city of Arnhem. Leons son David (1878-1942) moved to the Dutch capital Amsterdam around 1900. During World War II, the gallery was closed and the stock was sold by a Verwalter, an administrator appointed by the German occupier. Nico and Ab (1916-1990), both sons of David, were the only survivers after WWII and restarted the business with nothing but experience and determination.
In the 1981 centennial publication, Ab recalled: The first thing I bought [after the war] was a large safe. I bought it for pennies at an auction. The thing couldnt be carried or lifted, but I exchanged it for six antique chairs. He also revealed his business philosophy: Profit is nice, but the love for antiques is better. One should be able to separate between trading and the love for antiques.
Where is the enjoyement, if all you can think of is interest and percentages ?
In 1967, after a year of training with a colleague in London, Dave (1946-2007), Ab and wife Noens only child, joined his parents in the business. Prior to Abs death in 1990, Robert, son of Dave, decided also to continue in the footsteps of so many of his forebears, and after working at the head office of Sothebys in London for two years, he joined his father in 1992. Dave and Robert internationalized the firm rapidly, with the first overseas art fair in London in 1992 and starting to participate in The Winter Antiques Show in New York in 1994. Dave was chairman of the Executive Committee of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht from 1999 through his passing in 2007. Although having a background as an general antiques dealer, nowadays Aronson specializes in, and is world renowned for 17th and 18th century Dutch Delftware. An annual publication on Delftware, providing art historical context, and the e-commerce platform set the standard for a modern international dealership.
The Aronsons came to Amsterdam around 1900 and took up shop on Spiegelgracht, the elongation of the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. The next generation moved to Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 64, worked from there until World War II and from 1945 Aronsons occupied Kerkstraat 146, nowadays called Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 45-a&b. By the turn of the century the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, named after the extremely influential Hendrik Laurensz. Spiegel (1549-1612), became the antiques district of Amsterdam, mainly due to its proximity to the newly built Rijksmuseum (1885).
The exhibition is available online at www.aronson.com/greeka