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Bing & Grondahl History
Bing & Grondahl is a Danish pottery company formed in 1853 by Frederik Vilhelm Grondahl and brothers, Meyer Herman and Jacob Herman Bing. It is known worldwide for its high quality porcelain and stoneware, tableware and decorative items. The company was acquired in 1987 by Royal Copenhagen.

The story of Bing and Grondahl both begins and ends with Royal Copenhagen. Royal Copenhagen was established in 1775, as the Royal Porcelain Factory, under the patronage of the Danish monarchy. However, on June 5, 1849, Denmark moved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Effectively, this meant that Royal Copenhagen no longer had the protections and privileges it once had and needed to prove itself in a free market. This also provided the opportunity for others to compete in the porcelain business.

That opportunity was identified by a pair of art and book dealers, Meyer Herman and Jacob Herman Bing, and figurine maker, Frederik Vilhem Grondahl. Grondahl previously trained and worked at the Royal Copenhagen company and proposed the idea to the Bing brothers, whose business acumen, retail understanding and financial resources, complemented Grondahl's artistic vision. Grondahl wanted to create bisque figurines based on the works of renowned Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, among other ideas that had not been well received by his former employer.

Founded on April 19, 1853, Bing & Grondahl (B&G) began in a newly constructed factory on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark. Their products included both figurines and tableware and business was initially good. Taking advantage of the Bing brothers' existing network of traveling book salesmen, blank tableware samples and pattern books were taken all over the country, generating new orders.

Although skilled as a thrower, modeler and painter, Grondahl was stretched to his limits as Technical Director. He worked feverishly in this new endeavor, tackling technical challenges, like increasing production and changing kilns, along with more artistic challenges. Unfortunately, he pushed himself a little too hard and on August 15, 1856 he succumbed to the effects of a bad cold and died suddenly, at the young age of 37.

The Bing brothers, being primarily businessmen, considered closing down the business in the wake of Grondahl's untimely death. However, they decided to continue, promoting Andreas Juuel to Technical Director to fill the vacuum left by Grondahl. Andreas Juuel previously headed up the B&G painting team. He was primarily a landscape painter, trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and trained to paint on porcelain at Royal Copenhagen.

There were many early problems in the aftermath of Grondahl's death, from the availability of natural resources and skilled labor to the popularity of the designs. Experienced workers were brought in from Germany to assist through this difficult time.

B&G participated in the World Exhibition in London in 1862, exhibiting tableware, vases and figurines. This brought them much needed appreciation and accolades, boosting sales and overall reputation for quality wares.

Business continued to thrive over the coming years, with Harald Jacob Bing, son of Jacob Herman Bing, taking the technical lead and Heinrich Hansen taking over as artistic lead in 1868. Harald Bing studied chemistry and physics at the Technical University of Denmark and spent some time at Limoges, France, getting some practical pottery experience. Hansen, a painter who was trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, had been instrumental in B&G's success at the 1862 exhibition and continued to lead the way artistically, creating a number of popular tableware sets.

In 1885, Pietro Krohn was appointed as Artistic Director for B&G. Krohn, another painter educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, oversaw a major milestone in B&G's progress. They had spent some time perfecting underglaze painting techniques, allowing for fewer firings and better protection of the pattern. Up until this point, all B&G wares had utilized the overglaze style. Unlike their competitors at the time, B&G's underglaze technique allowed for painted scenes in multiple colors, producing very high quality images. This was showcased at both the Northern Exhibition in 1888 and the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, where Krohn exhibited his Heron service. It perfectly demonstrated the company's latest artistic and technical capabilities and caused quite a stir, earning it the Grand Prix award from the Paris exhibition. The painting of the Heron service was performed by Fanny Garde and Effie Hegermann-Lindencrone, both trained by Krohn at the Klein Industrial Drawing and Art School for Women.

The 1890s were an exciting time at B&G and set the groundwork for rapid growth in the early 20th century. There are four significant events we will mention from this decade. The first is the creation of the "Seagull" service. Designed by Fanny Garde in 1892 and released in 1895, this was an Art Nouveau styled design, featuring flying seagulls against a pale blue background with scale patterns around the edges. It was immensely popular, said to have been in 10% of all Danish households in the mid-20th century and considered the national service of Denmark. It was produced for more than a century before being discontinued in 1997.

The second major event for B&G in the 1890s was the creation of the world's first Christmas plate. This idea is credited to Harald Bing, then General Manager of B&G. The first plate was produced by underglaze painter, Frederik August Hallin, who joined B&G in 1895 from Royal Copenhagen. The plate, called "Behind the Frozen Window", and labeled "Jule Aften 1895" (Christmas Eve 1895) was cut in relief and decorated in several shades of blue. Hallin also designed the annual Christmas plates for the following 2 years. Although decorated by many different artists since then, they still continue to be produced, uninterrupted, to this day. The first plate was produced in relatively small numbers, but such was the popularity that, not only did they produce in much larger quantities in subsequent years but, competitors also began their own lines of annual Christmas plates, including Royal Copenhagen in 1908.

The third event of significance in the 1890s was the introduction of the now famous B&G trademark. The three towers mark comes from the Copenhagen coat of arms and originates from Absalon Castle, a fortification that used to stand on the Copenhagen island of Slotsholmen. This mark was introduced in 1898 and has been used ever since, with slight variations.

The final event we will mention from the end of the 19th century is the recruitment of several new employees. We already mentioned Frederik Hallin, but there were several other key recruits, including new Artistic Director, Jens Ferdinand Willumsen; sculptor, Alex Locher; and the prolific Jens Dahl Jensen. Each of these made major contributions to the success of B&G around the turn of the 20th century and beyond.

The 20th century began for B&G with the 1900 Paris World Exhibition, where a Willumsen-inspired showing consolidated their reputation on the International stage as producers of high quality porcelain wares. Willumsen resigned in 1900, but the company continued to produce high quality figurines, vases, plates and other tableware, all using the underglaze techniques. Although the 2 world wars significantly restricted the business, due to limited availability of resources and mainly domestic sales, there was still further expansion and innovation throughout the early 20th century, with stoneware items produced from 1914 and soft porcelain goods from 1925; also experiments with faience and enameling. A second B&G factory was opened in 1949.

Following the Second World War, the US became a more prominent market for B&G, especially for their figurines. Their approach through most of the 20th century was to hire the best artists and provide them with an environment conducive to stimulating their creativity. This approach led to pieces that were particularly appreciated by US buyers.

There were suggestions that B&G should merge with Royal Copenhagen as early as the 1880s, but it finally happened in 1987, when Royal Copenhagen acquired its competitor. The Bing & Grondahl name has been retained for the annual Christmas plates and certain other specific annual items, but in all other cases new items are marketed under the Royal Copenhagen brand. Royal Copenhagen continues today as the Porcelain wares arm of the Royal Scandinavia group.

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