Traditionally, Amphora referred to large Greek storage vessels with an oval body, usually tapering toward the base, and with two handles extending from just below the lip to the shoulder.
Much of the collector interest in European ceramics from the early 20th century has been focused on western European countries but a major art pottery movement reflecting the design elements of the Art Nouveau (Jugensdtil) and Secession periods during which it arose was burgeoning in what was then known as Bohemia.
However, the area of central Europe now part of Austria and Czechoslovakia produced a very fine art pottery also known as Amphora from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. Amphora employed very innovative shapes including figurals especially during the Art Nouveau period when their female busts were sometimes monumental and reflected a level of detail very seldom seen in porcelain manufacturing.
Amphora works also incorporated animals into their designs including serpents, parrots, and dragons, and other styles were unique to the Amphora manufacturers such as the “drop edge candle vase”. Amphora designs began with a drawing or watercolour which captured the desired finish look of the piece. Once the design committee had given approval to the design it was given a style number which was subsequently impressed or inscribed on the bottom of Amphora works.
Many Amphora designs were produced in a variety of sizes with the larger and more substantial being more complex to make and commanding higher prices originally. As such, the larger size pieces such as female busts are less common since they were less affordable during their original production. They are, therefore, consequently rarer and more desirable for collectors.
Generally recognized as the first and arguably the best of the Amphora manufacturers, Reissner, Stellmacher & Kessel was established in the Turn-Teplitz region of Bohemia in 1892.
Partners Hans and Carl Reissner, Edward Stellmacher, and Rudolf Kessel after Kessel took over the remaining factories of Alfred Stellmacher. This area of central Europe was close to Dresden, Germany and benefited from the long tradition of ceramics manufacturing among the peoples of eastern Germany.
The ceramics Reissner and his two partners produced was known for its unique styles and the interesting glazes they used to create what became known as “Amphora” pottery or simply “Teplitz.”
Reissner, Stellmacher & Kessel (R. St. K.) displayed their work in America for the first time at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where they were awarded a best in show prize and first attracted the attention of the American buying public. In 1897, R. St. K. produced art pottery vases in the style of Grueby and Rookwood but with more elaborate, Art Nouveau and Jugensdtil influenced designs. The partners Reissner, Stellmacher, and Kessel enjoyed business and artistic success and again took top honours at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. In 1905 Stellmacher left the firm to establish his own company under his own name.
The original firm continued to operate as the Reissner & Kessel Amphora Works and operated as such until Kessel also left in 1910. Subsequently, the original firm operated under the business name Amphora Werke Reissner while Stellmacher continued in operation only until 1912.
Amphora Werke Reissner continued to produce fine Amphora art pottery through the Art Deco period and the years of World War II, at which time it was nationalized by the Czechoslovakian government in 1945.
There were many other Amphora manufacturers who established operations in the Turn-Teplitz region, while imitators emerged elsewhere such as the Zsolnay factory in Pecs, Hungary which went on to create some innovative designs of their own.
In addition to Reissner, Stellmacher, and Kessel marked works, one also sees very high quality works which were produced at the Imperial Technical School for Ceramics & Associated Applied Arts from which many of the Amphora designers and artisans graduated.
Created in 1885 and continuing in operation through World War I until 1917, the school was a decorative arts and design academy which taught students how to sculpt clay in a manner that was both complex in technique and reflective of “themes” such as nature which was so influencing the Art Nouveau period. The manufacturers of the region benefited from the supply of talent produced at the school, and they contributed to its operation by providing lecturers and raw materials including clay with which the students worked.
Ernst Wahliss of Turn-Wein, Austria was another early Amphora art pottery designer who enjoyed success beyond the confines of Europe. Wahliss produced between 1897 and 1906 some of the most beautiful female Art Nouveau busts which are highly sought by collectors today given their beauty and technical complexity.
Wahliss was somewhat unique among the Amphora manufacturers for having established his own retail shops in London and Vienna. Another well known, high quality Amphora manufacturer was the firm of Julius Dressler whose manufacturing operation was founded in Belia, Bohemia in 1883 and operated until 1944.
During the early 20th century, Bohemia was part of the fading Austrian-Hungarian empire. Amphora was sold in the United States by finer decorating shops including Louis Comfort Tiffany of New York, who appreciated the innovative, hand crafted designs, vibrant colours, and unique glazes used by the Amphora manufacturers from Turn-Teplitz, Bohemia now the town of Trovany in Czechoslovakia.
Amphora works from this period were extraordinarily complex in manufacturing technique, often requiring as many as 10 firings. A series of decorators, and finishers who did the final style flourishes like gilding.
Almost all European Amphora art pottery produced during this period was marked with various Amphora and factory marks including style numbers and in many cases artist’s signatures such as Paul Dachsel whose “PD” marks decorated some of the work emanating from Reissner, Stellmacher, & Kessel from 1892 to 1905.
Dachsel himself left Reissner in 1905 at the same time as Edward Stellmacher to form his own firm “PD Turn-Teplitz.”