American-themed Chinese export porcelain served at Alex Cooper, March 5

Chinese export porcelain featuring images inspired by John Trumbull’s painting, ‘The Declaration of Independence,’ est. $5,000-$7,000

Chinese export porcelain cup and saucer decorated with images inspired by John Trumbull’s famous patriotic painting, ‘The Declaration of Independence,’ est. $5,000-$7,000

TOWSON, Md. – The Alex Cooper auction house will hold a sale titled Fine Art, Furniture, Decorative Art & Rugs on Saturday, March 5, starting at 10 am Eastern time. Among the lots will be a selection of Chinese Export porcelain with patriotic American themes. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

During the infancy of the United States, one way of showing gratitude as well as status was to display personal wealth. This meant putting one’s worldly goods – the house and land and all the fine fittings and decor associated with the house itself – on display for all to see, a practice that continues to this day. Well-heeled Americans wanted everyone to know and celebrate their pride in their newly won independence.

The elites supported the fledgling nation by buying American, whether that meant furniture, silver, paintings or decorative arts. Export china was another story, however. It had been coming to the British-American colonies for at least five decades, but those wares were decorated with solidly English themes, such as exotic gardens and riverscapes and English armorials. Where was the Chinese export porcelain with uniquely American motifs?

These would come after the American Revolution, and they would feature the American bald eagle prominently. The majestic bird’s likeness would appear on every type of table ware and other decorative article. But why did American elites favor Chinese export porcelain instead of wares from Europe? The answer is quality, plain and simple. English china ware of the same type, although attractive and well done, was produced by the bat transfer method, which was easier to manufacture and therefore less expensive. Chinese Export porcelain, whether it be a simple Canton Blue cup or an elaborate armorial plate, was done individually, by hand, making every piece unique.

Circa 1800-1810 Chinese export plate featuring an eagle, est. $1,000-$1,500

Circa 1800-1810 Chinese export plate featuring an eagle, est. $1,000-$1,500

The artisans who made Chinese export porcelain embraced American patriotic fervor with gusto. As mentioned before, eagles were legion. A fine example from the March 5 sale is a circa-1800-1810 plate boasting a sepia eagle grasping a bundle of arrows in its talons, estimated at $1,000-$1,500. Elaborate patriotic images decorated large bowls commissioned by officers of the Society of the Cinncinatus and other wealthy Americans. This practice would continue up to the American Sesquicentennial of 1926, yielding pieces graced with scenes of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence and The Surrender of Cornwallis based on paintings by American painter John Trumbull (1756-1843).

An example of a Trumbull-inspired Sesquicentennial piece in the sale is a cup and saucer decorated in famille rose enamels and gold with variations of his depiction of the Declaration of Independence. The cup and saucer are estimated at $5,000-$7,000.

Plate from a 1796 Chinese export porcelain service given to Martha Washington, est. $50,000-$70,000

Plate from a 1796 Chinese export porcelain service given to Martha Washington, est. $50,000-$70,000

Another notable Chinese export porcelain offering is a plate from a 1796 service given to Martha Washington and bearing her monogram at the center, inside a sun. Its rays touch 15 ovals around the rim, each containing the name of a state. This in turn is encircled by a snake biting its tail, which is a Chinese symbol of eternity. Below the sun-monogram is the phrase “Deus Et Tutamen Ab Illo,” which translates to “Honor and Defense come from It.” The porcelain service is mentioned in Washington’s will, designated to pass to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. The plate is estimated at $50,000-$70,000.

 

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