The history of the factory compound is intertwined not only with those of a city rich in historical and cultural tradition and of an exceptionally talented family, but also of the whole of Hungary. The name of the Zsolnay Family and the depiction of the five towers after which the city was named in the Middle Ages have become known and recognized all across Europe and around the world during the periods when industry and commerce were not restrained by borders, and social and economic development were inspired by a desire for progress, and the uninhibited blossoming of culture and the arts. We have high hopes for an imminent economic boom in Hungary, and one that would also benefit the Factory that has played an important role in promoting Hungary within Europe throughout its history.

It was Miklós Zsolnay, a merchant, who set up the factory. His first request for permission was submitted to the Council of Pécs Free Royal City on 2 June 1852. As his son, Ignác, was committed to the idea of developing Hungarian industry, Miklós Zsolnay transferred the small manufactory to him. At the time, the company produced terracotta architectural ornaments and household stoneware.

VILMOS ZSOLNAY

Vilmos Zsolnay has reached the status of a legend by today. His excellent natural abilities were complemented by a readiness to experiment and courage to launch innovative initiatives. He as a merchant, artisan, inventor, artisan, artist, and industrialist rolled into one.

Vilmos Zsolnay was born on 19 April 1828 in Pécs. He is recognised as a genius of Hungarian ceramics and applied arts. His career was strewn with difficult battles but his efforts were rewarded by innumerable great achievements. His life was characterized by untiring experimentation and a range of successes, both in Hungary and in the international arena. He was a respected any renowned figure, and his fame did not abate even after his death on 23 March 1900.

As a young man, Vilmos Zsolnay wanted to become a printer, but instead he joined the family business and became a merchant like his father. The building of Pécs’s old department store called ‘Bazár’ can still be seen on the corner of the main square. At the peak of its popularity, anything and everything that a burgher family needed to fit out their home. The products on offer were made by the most renowned manufacturers of Europe, and attracted customers from far afield. In 1864, Vilmos took over from his brother Ignác the small Stoneware and Terracotta Factory, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. Through decades of dedicated work, he turned it into a world-famous business. By the time he incorporated the company in 1868 under his own name, it had been mechanized and renamed to First Pécs Cement, Chamotte and Fireproof Goods Factory. From that time onwards, the company manufactured not only dishes and architectural ornaments but also all kinds of ceramics products, quickly adapting to the changing market demand. After 1885, new business units were set up: the pipe factory, then the stove factory and the architectural ceramics factory and later, from 1895, the porcelain factory that made electro technology goods and insulators. Initially, Vilmos Zsolnay invited directors from abroad, but after 1872 he was forced to take the helm and lead the workshop himself, managing around 30-35 people. Until the early 1880s, he also continued managing the Bazár and a horticultural business, as well as mining and other companies he owned. He used these to generate the capital required for continuous development. After a trip to England in 1868, and achieving his first successes at the World Expo of 1873 in Vienna, Vilmos Zsolnay decided to focus on the production of decorative and luxury objects, and to enter the fray to compete with the leading companies of his time. His experiments were successful, and resulted in the development of raw materials and glazes the likes of which were not produced anywhere else except at the most outstanding factories, including the English Minton factory, French Theodor Deck, the Sèvres Manufactory, which enjoyed the full support of the government, or the Berlin Royal Porcelain Factory. Between 1874 and 1878, he developed the high-burnt glazing technology which, when applied on a porous and light pottery, became known as ‘porcelain faience’. At the Paris World Expo in 1878, it earned the gold medal for the company, and Vilmos received the Legion of Honour medal. After 1880, he continued working on his colored soft porcelain technology, and between 1885 and 1891 he developed a process for ceramic paintings that resembles oil paintings and frescoes. His most famous invention was eosine glazing, with which he experimented from 1891 until his death. Initially, his work was supported by chemists Lajos Petrik and Dr Vince Wartha. At around the same time, he invented a freeze-resistant architectural ceramic, pyrogranite, which can also be decorated in colour. Under Vilmos Zsolnay’s leadership, the factory quickly gained itself a name and became a competitor of the very best in the industry. It followed the stylistic and technical trends of the era that defined ceramics on the international scene, but it did so using a unique and characteristics, with an extremely rich range of motifs, colours, and imagination. Thanks to his collaboration with the most renowned Austrian and Hungarian architects of his time, including Otto Wagner, Max Fabiani, Imre Steindl, Ödön Lechner, and many others, Vilmos Zsolnay also created a lasting legacy in the field of architectural ceramics. Instead of prefabricated modest decorative terracotta sections, he produced full and unique ceramic outfits for entire private and public buildings starting from the 1880s.

VILMOS ZSOLNAY’S CHILDREN: TERÉZ, JÚLIA, AND MIKLÓS

Vilmos Zsolnay’s children worked alongside the factory’s employees: his two daughters, Teréz and Júlia were involved in design, and his son, Miklós, looked after commercial issues. Later, his sons-in-law, architect and applied art designer Tádé Sikorski and geologist Jakab Mattyasovszky also joined the family business.

ZSOLNAY FAMILY

MIKLÓS ZSOLNAY

After Vilmos’s death, his son, Miklós Zsolnay (1857- 1922) inherited the company. In the first decade of the century, the factory reached the peak of its development, and enjoyed the greatest artistic and business successes in the international arena. The company true pieces of art, both unique and in small numbers, designed by the professional designers of the company and invited guest artists in the art nouveau and early art deco styles, and manufactured a large staff of skilled artisans. These works were recognized with the most prestigious awards in Paris in 1900, In Turin in 1902, In St Louis in 1904, in Milan in 1906, and once again in Turin in 1911. This period is characterized by the glazing process invented by Vilmos Zsolnay, which results in the iridescent metallic luster glaze called eosin. These works of art invoke the ever-changing beauty of nature and dreams, and became jewels used to decorate luxurious interiors. The flower stands, wall-mounted plates, lamps, jewelry and visiting card bowl were transformed into sculptures and iridescent paintings. Thanks to the boom in Hungarian construction industry in the early 20th century, architectural ceramics became the predominant products of the Zsolnay factory. The uniquely designed luxury products were complemented by a tile and sanitary goods factory set up in Budapest.

THE DESCENDANTS OF THE ZSOLNAYS

The next period in the factory’s history covers the years between 1919 and 1948, when the factory was managed as a family business by the descendants of Vilmos Zsolnay, the members of the third, fourth, and even the fifth generation.

During this ‘Age of Heirs’, the factory had to operate in a fundamentally different environment. After World War I, the victorious powers redrew the entire map of Central and Eastern Europe, Austria-Hungary was no more, and two thirds of the area of the Kingdom of Hungary was taken over by new countries set up after the treaties of 1921. The Zsolnay factory suffered from losing its international contacts, markets, and own sources of raw materials. Additionally, it had to grow up to the challenge that the global change in the role of applied arts brought about. The manufacturing of industrial porcelain was complemented as the factory’s chief focus of interest by the production of tableware to replace Czech, Austrian, and German imports. The manufactory was transformed into a porcelain factory, and after years of global economic hardship, it used porcelain to produce decorative objects. Serial production was introduces, but the eosin process was adapted to porcelain and, along with painting under the glazing, it continued to be used for exclusive items in the hopeful periods between the various crises.

AFTER NATIONALISATION

Az After the Zsolnay factory was nationalized in 1948, production was entirely centralized, and solely aimed at the domestic market. Design works were suspended completely for five years, and even the Zsolnay brand was abandoned until 1973. The extremely high standards set by tradition, however, continued to inspire once the grip of the dictatorship became less tight. The country was isolated behind the Iron Curtain, but modern artistic approaches enjoyed a degree of freedom in Pécs and in the applied arts which benefited the Zsolnay workshops greatly.

 

Source: zsolnay.hu


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