Openwork fruit basket

Manufactured by American China Manufactory American
Gousse Bonnin
George Anthony Morris

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 704

This porcelain basket is one of the most ambitious forms produced by the early porcelain-making firm of Bonnin and Morris, in Philadelphia, the second earliest porcelain manufacturer in America. It reveals the extraordinary competency and ambition of the enterprise, from which only 19 whole examples are known to have survived. Fruit baskets like this one, and shell pickle stands, were luxury items, and would have graced the sideboards and dining tables of some of America’s wealthiest colonists. These elaborate objects were challenging for a fledgling factory, and as such are testament to the extraordinary ambition of the colonial enterprise. The porcelain medium was highly demanding requiring specialized clays and necessitating a high temperature for firing. The openwork baskets exhibit highly skilled execution in the scoring and cutting away the voids leaving the interlocking circles and horizontal struts. The painted decoration required the hand of a skilled painter; this basket highlights some of the pottery’s challenges in controlling the underglaze cobalt blue, which ran and blurred in the glazing and firing. The impetus for this enterprise came likely from Philadelphians Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin, the latter who was known for his encouragement of American industry and his ambition to reduce dependence upon British-made products in favor of domestic manufacture. In its design of interlocking circles and underglaze blue painted decoration it expresses the rococo style then in vogue during the mid-eighteenth century. It copies related baskets made in England, specifically by the Worcester factory. Its underglaze hand-painted decoration of a spray of flowers and moth is similar to many English examples, and is thus testament of the factory’s desire to compete successfully against luxury English imports.

Two entrepreneurs, Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris, aided by skilled English workmen, began their experiments with the challenging medium, and drew their first kiln in late 1770. The aspiring young partnership, however, lasted just under two years, and they advertised in November 1772 the sale of all the buildings, kilns, etc. of the factory to the highest bidder. Nonetheless, it serves to illustrate the early ambitions in the face of a multitude of challenges to produce a native product—in this case, luxury porcelain—in colonial America.

Openwork fruit basket, Manufactured by American China Manufactory (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1770–1772), Soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue decoration, American

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