Manufacturer Gorham Manufacturing Company American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 706

This delicate, luminous dish is a rare surviving example of Gorham Manufacturing Co.’s pioneering plique-à-jour enamels—a technique in which enamels are fused into openings of a wire framework, creating an effect similar to stained glass. In 1893, Gorham unveiled a group of plique-à-jour enameled works in their display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to great critical and public acclaim, and they earned numerous awards for their enamel and silverwork. Accounts of the fair devote considerable attention to these novel and virtuosic translucent enamel wares. Period press heralded Gorham’s display as "one of the grandest features of the World’s Fair," lauding the firm’s "translucent ware" as "something entirely new in this country." One account described admiringly, "the mere film of translucent enamel over the skeleton of silver thread."

These innovative enamel wares were created in Gorham’s New York shop under the direction of Count Gyula de Festetics (b.1847/48), an award-winning enamellist who was born in Hungary, trained in Europe, and emigrated to the United States around 1867. At a time when most artists and artisans working at Gorham and other such firms were men, it is noteworthy that de Festetics hired women to design and execute enamel work at Gorham. In a publication on Gorham’s exhibit at the Columbian Exposition, contemporary art historian and teacher Julia Osgood highlighted the role "young women, mostly American, chosen for their artistic tendencies" played in the creation of the celebrated enamel wares. Prior to this date, there were very few opportunities for women in America to support themselves as artists or artisans. Gorham’s enamel shop is a bellwether of change; in the ensuing decades increasing numbers of women worked as metalsmiths, enamellers, and jewelers. Gorham records indicate the firm made around 16 unique ‘samples’ of this plique-à-jour enamelware, half of which were shipped directly from the shop to the Chicago fair. The labor and materials required to produce the dish totaled over $155, a sizable sum in 1893 that is roughly equivalent to $5,000 today. This jewel-like dish is a rarified luxury good that both attests to the artistic and technical skills of the artists who created it and signals the affluence, taste, and sophistication of its owner.

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