The Chinese discovered kaolin clay and figured out how to shape and fire it into porcelain by the 8th century, but they guarded the secrets of making fine china from the West.
The company adopted three waved lines—which represent Denmark’s three straits, Øresund, Store Bælt and Lille Bælt—as its trademark.
Royal Copenhagen struggled financially as it experimented with porcelain making until the absolute monarch King Christian VII took over the company in 1779 to guarantee its survival.
Most of the porcelain at the time was painted with cobalt blue, as that was the only underglaze color that could tolerate the 1400-degree Celsius firing.
But the first Royal Copenhagen figurines were not put on public display until the Paris World Fair of 1889.
Hetsch, the artistic director of Royal Copenhagen, reportedly produced bisque porcelain characters such as Venus to complement his vases and candlesticks.
In fact, the Art Nouveau era was a particularly good time for both the firm and fans of figurines, as Royal Copenhagen designers created scores of adorable children and animals, as well as mythical figures such as satyrs.
Royal Copenhagen designers at the beginning of the 20th century included Knud Kyhn and Gerhard Henning, who, between them, created many of the company’s most enduring figurines, from polar bears and monkeys to mischievous Pan characters.
Another designer from this period was Felix Nylund, whose white porcelain figure of a mother clutching her child stood a full 21 inches tall.
One of the secrets to Royal Copenhagen’s success was its underglazing techniques, which allowed artists to use color to accentuate the shapes of the figures from within, rather than simply applying color to the object’s surface.