Union Porcelain Works American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 706

Bret Harte (1836-1902) rivaled Mark Twain in the field of late-nineteenth-century American popular literature. The decoration on one side of this pitcher is inspired by Harte’s 1870 poem, "The Heathen Chinee," satirizing the gambling life in California mining camps. On the front of the pitcher, the designer Karl Müller depicted Harte’s frontiersman Bill Nye confronting the Chinese immigrant, Ah Sin, during a card game. While the poem was written as an indictment of anti-Chinese racism, Harte’s message backfired, and the public read his emphasis on xenophobia literally. Similarly, Muller’s design reinforced negative stereotypes at a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

On the other side of the pitcher, Muller departs from the Harte poem by depicting the character of King Gambrinus, the mythical Flemish inventor of beer, offering Brother Jonathan, the American "everyman" (and predecessor of Uncle Sam), a glass of foaming brew. The scene references a short story published in 1868 by the Frenchman Charles Deulin (1827-1877).

Pitcher, Union Porcelain Works (1863–1922), Porcelain, American

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