Remember when Grace from "Will and Grace" TV series broke one of Will's mother Lladró porcelain figurines and in return she promises to pour bleach on something the perpetrators loves? I grew up in a house full of china figurines as my mother was in love with them. But she wasn't the only one. All her friends' houses had suffered the same invasion. It's not difficult to imagine that I started to see china as a fashion belonging to the generations before mine.
Today's Lladró figurines are not my mother’s porcelain silhouettes anymore. In the last years Lladró has redefined itself by hiring young artists that dragged the company into the 21st century. How did I come to (kind of) like Lladró? Its one and only factory is located just outside Valencia, in Tavernes Blanques, a small village 20 minutes drive from the very heart of the city.
Recently while in Valencia, I joined a friend of mine for a visit to the City of Porcelaine, on a Lladró factory and museum guided tour. The tour has to be booked in advance and you can choose between several languages. There is no charge for it and the experience is marvelous!
First of all we visited the café, nicely located next to the City of Porcelain's swimming pool and surrounded by palm trees and a dark green lawn as you are not bound to see very often in Valencia. We paid only 2euro for a soft drink and a bombón (coffee with condensed milk). I can't even remember when it was the last time I paid so little for a beverage...
Herons' Realm Vase
The guided tour of the Lladró factory and museum starts in a huge showroom where you can admire hundreds of porcelain figurines and take all the photos you want. I have to admit I am still reluctant at this form of artistic expression and that's why I appreciate some better than other. Of course, knowing that they are 100% handmade, gives all of them a certain value in my eyes, but if I will ever receive a Lladró as a gift, I prefer it to be a beautiful vase, a lady's torso or a modern candlestick. Something like "My Fair Lady" or "Herons' Real Vase", the vase because it's practical and the lady because she's so beautiful! Of course, if I were ever to have a Lladro figurine, I guess I would also need a new bigger and luxurious house to go with it.
My Fair Lady
Our guide showed us a short video about the three Lladró brothers that founded the factory back in 1953; only one child of each of the founding members works now for the company. Then we entered the factory. Lladró employees over 1,000 artists and many of them have been with the company for more than 30 years. However, we only met 5 of them. We were shown how the molds were filled with liquid porcelain, we held in our hands the still wet head of Marie Antoinette, watched how the little body parts were being glued together with liquid porcelain and then painted with a transparent paint where a color was added so the painter can see where she has already applied the paint. That color burns out in the heating process, leaving only the subtle colors Lladró is famous for. They also showed us how a rose was made from colorful soft porcelain, petal by petal and probably this is what impressed me the most plus the fact that each piece is signed by the artists who worked on it. Ultimately the piece is burned in a kiln where it shrinks by one third.
The tour also includes the Historic Porcelain Museum, where Lladró silhouettes withdrawn from sale are displayed in chronological order emphasizing on the artistic evolution of the company. The first creations of the Lladró brothers are here too. Next we visited the Paintings Museum, hosting one of Spain's most important private collections, with more that 70 artworks by artists like Sorolla, Ruben, Zurbarán and El Greco. Then we made a final stop in the hallway downstairs where we had a seat in one of the comfortable sofas, where we drank coffee and hot chocolate on the house.
Lladró figurines changed the way I look at porcelain silhouettes forever. I do understand why they are priceless, or, well, at least very, very expensive. I love the idea of handmade stuff produced in limited editions. But I still don't care much about the mass produced ones though or about the parrots and horses, be them handmade. My mother had all kind of birds in her china collection. I'm not going down that rabbit hole, no and no!
The most impressing piece in the Lladró Museum however, is by any standards, the 100 units limited edition "Queen of the Nile", a majestic 160cm long Egyptian vessel. This is the biggest artistic and technical display Lladró has ever made and it costs... embrace yourselves... 120,000euro. In some countries you can buy a few apartments for that money or live happily ever after. Or you can travel around the world for several years and experience a thousand Egypts.
Queen of the Nile
The Lladró guided tour was a very interesting experience. If you ever happen to come to Valencia, don't miss a visit to Lladró brother's legacy. If not, there are plenty of Lladró shops around the globe where you can see part of the latest collections. These shops are little museums in themselves. The prices start from 40euro - and that's something very, very small, like a ring. The majority of the pieces are worth a few thousand euros. But I believe every time somebody buys a Lladró figurine, a little child dies in Africa. It's just too much money to be invested in a useless furniture decoration, no matter how beautiful and delicate it might be.
What's your love hate relationship with Lladró figurines?