We have thousands of precious objects at Polesden, and even the ones displayed in cases can get very grotty from dust throughout the year. We enthusiastically climb our conservation cleaning mountain by running Conservation in Action demonstrations, where you can drop in, see our conservation work up close, and get tips on how to look after your own precious things. Visitors last week found us in Mrs Greville’s Study, buried deep in our anuual clean of our Meissen porcelain.
Porcelain was the ‘must have’ item of the eighteenth century – light and delicate; radically different from the clunky but durable earthenware that had been produced in Europe for centuries. Chinese potters based in Guangzhou (Canton) produced porcelain specially designed to suit European tastes, including special commissions that proudly displayed the owner’s coat of arms. This ‘Canton Ware’ was highly treasured in England but less so in China, where it was regarded as being a bit of a cheap knock-off!
The very first European-made porcelain was manufactured by Meissen, who were founded in 1710 in Saxony, Germany. Mrs Greville was quite a fan and collected several large sets, dating from around 1750.
I love caring for porcelain because it’s really quite a tough material – we don’t have to worry about light, insect or humidity damage. Antique porcelain without gilding can even be carefully washed with water and a mild detergent (such as washing up liquid for sensitive skin). Our gilded Meissen requires a more delicate operation, since gilding is above the glaze and so is susceptible to being washed off. Instead, we gently dust it with a soft pony hair brush.
We try to kill two birds with one stone by inspecting each piece we clean for signs of damage. Each object has its own condition report, with a diagram of any cracks or breaks or signs of wear, and guidance on any conservation work needed.
All in all, a very relaxing way to spend the week.