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
- I recommend the behind-the-scenes “factory” tour (when available)
- See also:
Porcelain in Vienna
(View toward the premises from the park edge)
The first Viennese porcelain company was a private enterprise led by a chap named Du Paquier.
With the company’s founding in 1718, Vienna became the site of Europe’s second-oldest porcelain manufacturer.
Apparently, Du Paquier used a few questionable business practices to get hold of the production secrets from the oldest (Meissen, founded in 1710 by the Elector of Saxony at the time: the wonderfully-named Augustus the Strong).
In 1744, the company morphed into the state-controlled Imperial Porcelain Manufactory under the aegis of Empress Maria Theresa, but too much competition from elsewhere caused Emperor Franz Joseph to close the facility in 1864.
The legitimate successor to this legacy is today’s Wiener Porzellanmanufaktur Augarten, founded in 1923.
Augarten’s manufacturing premises include a fully-refurbished tract (the Augarten Saal) that dates back to the early 18th century and once hosted the likes of Mozart and Beethoven (see below).
This historical tract is all that remains of an older palace destroyed during an Ottoman invasion and now houses the Augarten porcelain museum, a shop, and the Sperling im Augarten restaurant.
(Porcelain tablet with a view of the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, made in Vienna around 1810; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 115029/2; excerpt reproduced under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license; photo by Birgit and Peter Kainz, Wien Museum)
What’s inside the museum?
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 got a pleasant surprise.
First off, if you do visit, see if you can get on a guided tour of the “factory”, which takes you behind the scenes of the manufacturing area. You may have to ask about the availability of English tours, though.
The tour does not reveal big machines, conveyor belts, and bespectacled gentlemen in white coats. At Augarten, ceramic artists make every piece of porcelain by hand.
I toured during the Vienna Open House event; witnessing the staff at work was a true delight. They explained how each piece takes three months to complete, with one artist responsible for that piece throughout the production process.
The tour gave me a new respect for Augarten’s products and a bit more understanding for the price they charge. It certainly felt like a strong appreciation for art and culture lies at the heart of the business.
This feeling finds its echo in the museum, too.
On my visit, the 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 changed over time.
(History, tradition, and skill combined)
You soon understand how Augarten straddles the interface between historical and contemporary influences.
So you have recognition of the Baroque, Rococo or Neoclassical tradition of Augarten’s predecessors, but equal due given 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 were:
- The porcelain mice and a monkey on a tree from the 1930s
- 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.
The museum also hosts regular special exhibitions.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, an adult ticket costs €8 with concessions available; one-time entry is free with the Vienna Pass (read my review).
As well as the museum, you have the shop and the neighbouring coffee house/restaurant I mentioned earlier. The shop stocked (surprise!) a selection of Augarten porcelain, but also a few souvenir-type gifts, such as a set of paper serviettes.
Note that the flagship Augarten store in the city centre can be found 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. Once you’re done with the museum, sip a coffee and imagine the strains of some stringed instrument drifting across the centuries to you
- The musical theme continues outside: the next-door neighbour is the home of the famous Vienna Boys’ Choir
- 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, a WWII flak tower sits 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: the ground floor had about 30 small glass vitrines, for example, typically featuring 2 or 3 objects in each
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 Taborstraße subway station on the U2 line is around 10 minutes away from the museum.
Address: Obere Augartenstraße 1, 1020 Vienna | Website