Porcelain production in Vienna dates back to 1718, but its success story shattered like a dropped plate in 1864, when the state-owned manufacturer closed.
Fortunately, Augarten brought Viennese porcelain back to life in 1923, and their on-site museum gives you a taste of the history, tradition, innovation, and design culture surrounding the city’s “white gold”.
- Travel through the history of (Augarten) porcelain, with a focus on art and design
- Quick to get around, but plenty of beautiful porcelain on display
- Behind-the-scenes “factory” tour highly recommended
- €7 for an adult ticket or free with the Vienna Pass
Vienna was the site of Europe’s second-oldest porcelain manufacturer. They indulged in a few questionable business practices to wrest the secrets of porcelain away from the oldest manufacturer, Meissen (in what is now Germany). That first Viennese company was a private enterprise led by a chap named Du Paquier and founded in 1718.
In 1744 it became the state-controlled Imperial Porcelain Manufactory under the aegis of Empress Maria Theresia but closed in 1864. The legitimate successor to this legacy was the Wiener Porzellanmanufaktur Augarten, today’s company, founded in 1923.
The company’s premises include a broad and fully-refurbished tract that dates back to the early 18th century and is all that remains of an older palace destroyed during an Ottoman invasion. This tract houses the Augarten museum, with its shop and restaurant.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure just how interesting a porcelain museum was going to be, especially if (like me) you don’t have a particular interest in that branch of human endeavour. But I was pleasantly surprised.
First off, if you do visit, pay extra for a guided tour of the “factory”, which takes you behind the scenes. We’re not talking big machines, conveyor belts, and bespectacled gentlemen in white coats – every piece of Augarten porcelain is handmade by ceramic artists.
I toured during the Vienna Open House event, and it was a delight to witness the staff at work, explaining how each piece takes three months to complete, with one artist responsible for that piece throughout the production process.
The tour gives you a new appreciation for Augarten’s products and a bit more understanding for the price they charge. It certainly felt like there is a strong appreciation for art and culture at the heart of the business.
This feeling found an echo in the museum, too.
The ground-floor information displays (in German and English) tracked the history of Augarten porcelain since its rebirth in 1923, describing how the artistic approaches and design philosophy have changed over time.
You could grasp how the company straddles the interface between historical and contemporary influences…respecting the Baroque, Rococo or Neoclassical tradition of its predecessors while giving equal due to design innovation, as seen in the impact of the Wiener Werkstätte visual artist community active in Vienna when the company first started up.
Glass vitrines around the walls contained porcelain items that illustrated the points made in the information displays, allowing you to track how colours and forms reflected the prevailing zeitgeist.
A handy free guide (available in English) also catalogued the contents of each vitrine. Highlights for me:
- The porcelain mice and a monkey on a tree from the 30s
- The Princess Tea Blossom figurine from Richard Strauss’s Schlagobers ballet
- The “Vulpine” perfume flasks with their white and gold animal skull design
- The “Chamber Monster” service of 2015, with such delights as a coffee cup with a snake handle and a bowl on legs. Potteresque porcelain, you might say.
On my visit, the upper level was a temporary exhibition tracing the earlier part of the 300-year history of porcelain in Vienna. Posters and porcelain objects again took you along the timeline of changes in style and approach, from early 18th-century baroque clockfaces to mid-19th-century trompe l’oeil porcelain coffee and croissants.
Tickets & visitor information
At the time of writing, an adult ticket costs €7 with concessions available. Entry is free with the Vienna Pass. It’s open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (5 pm on Sundays and public holidays). The factory tours are scheduled in the mornings, Monday to Thursday, with museum tours on Saturday afternoon, though I’m not sure if English tours are available during the week.
As always, check the official website for up-to-date information and details.
As well as the museum, there’s the shop and coffee house/restaurant I mentioned earlier. The shop stocks (surprise!) a selection of Augarten porcelain, with a few souvenir-type gifts, too, such as a set of paper serviettes.
Note that there is a flagship Augarten shop in the city centre at Spiegelgasse 3: Augarten porcelain is one of my recommended Vienna souvenirs, but save up your pocket money before you go.
A few extra tips:
- The likes of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven held concerts in the building so once you’re done with the museum, you can sip a coffee and imagine the strains of some stringed instrument drifting across the centuries to you
- Have a look at the park gardens outside the Augarten premises, with their cottage-garden style borders and clipped conifers
- In the distance, across the Augarten Park, is a WWII flak tower, sitting incongruously like a squat extraterrestrial monument – a crumbling reminder of darker days. It makes a good “beauty and the beast” photo motif
- The museum is not too big so quick to get around – there were about 30 small glass vitrines on the ground floor, for example, typically featuring 2 or 3 objects in each
- Just before the entrance to the museum proper is a display room where you can see parts of the original ceiling of the building, plus an absolutely huge, unique Augarten vase made for the owner by his staff
How to get to the porcelain museum
If you find your way to the Augarten Park, just follow the signs and maps within. To reach the museum more directly…
Tram: Line 31 stops just outside the nearest park entrance to the manufactory complex. Get off at “Obere Augartenstraße”.
Bus: The same stop is served by bus lines 5A and 5B.
Subway: If you’re happy with a short walk, the subway station “Taborstraße” on the U2 line is around 10 minutes away from the museum.
Address: Obere Augartenstraße 1, 1020 Vienna | Website