Dinner plate ("The Cranes Walk Round")

Decorator Theodore Russell Davis American
Manufacturer Haviland & Co. American and French

Not on view

In 1879, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes, at the beginning of the third year of her husband’s, Rutherford B. Hayes’s, presidency, commissioned a state dinner service from Haviland & Co., Limoges, France. The service is one of the most extraordinary services known and a radical departure from many of the previous White House services made, which consisted of traditional border designs and gilding, often including a variation of the Great Seal of the United States. State services were intended to be used for entertaining in the White House, and to set a tone for taste and elegance. The Hayes service took that several steps further, in first, commissioning an American artist to provide the designs, and to have such a variety of them, and in their explicit homage to American plants, birds, fish, and animals. Each form, often a different and unusual shape, features a different decorative motif, and. Although manufactured by a French firm, the designs were provided by the American artist Theodore R. Davis, an artist/illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. In an overtly nationalistic vein, the subjects depict an array of flora and fauna native to North America.

The service represents an unusual collaboration between the First Lady and Davis. Lucy Hayes needed to replace the service currently in use at the White House of Ulysses S. Grant. Her original inspiration was for a dessert service based on the ferns and flowers in the White House conservatory, and several manufacturers bid for the job—Haviland & Co. of Paris and New York won the bid for $2,996.50 (later increased to $3,120.00). A chance visit by Theodore Davis to the White House, while on assignment for Harper’s, prompted Mrs. Hayes to discuss her ideas for the service. He is said to have made the suggestion that she expand upon her original idea to having an entire banquet set decorated with American flowers and wildlife. Davis was then hired to both provide the designs and to work directly with Haviland & Co. to have his designs realized on porcelain. The Haviland firm was a well-established firm in this country and was founded by an American before moving the establishment to Limoges, a porcelain-making center in France. The service was designed both to embody the advancement of art and culture, and to celebrate the national character of the nation’s wildlife. Much of the decoration was also intended to complement the food served for the various courses—game animals, for example, for dinner plates; different kinds of sea life for the fish plates; game birds for the poultry plates; etc. Davis worked through the spring and summer of 1879 in a make-shift studio in Asbury Park, New Jersey, from which he could observe many of his subjects; for others, he drew upon his acquired knowledge of wildlife across the country.

The service also heralds innovations in decorating porcelain. Davis provided the watercolor designs which were sent to the Haviland company in France. From there, etchings were made of the design’s outlines, which would then be applied by a transfer process to the numbers required. The colors were then applied to each dish using chromolithographic and decalcomania processes. Following that, factory decorators painted with enamel colors to further shade and enhance the design in order to more closely match the original. The final step was the gilding. Davis also made suggestions regarding some innovative shapes for some of the service—some with rims curled up or down, others with an asymmetrical border, still others, such as the Ice cream plate, with relief-molded designs. The service was completed and delivered to the White House in 1880. Such was the importance that Haviland considered the commission that they published an extensive pamphlet, illustrated with Davis’s designs, which gave a history and description of the service. In an effort to recoup some of the cost of the extensive service, Haviland produced additional sets, that they offered for sale through various retailers. This dinner plate features an almost humorous composition of five sand-hill cranes jauntily doing their "walk ‘round" or dance at sunset. Such birds are common to the Western states.

Other examples of presidential china in the American Wing include a plate from George Washington’s Society of the Cincinnati service (Acc. No. 17.73), as well as examples from the James Monroe (Acc. No. 2006.245.2a,b) and Dewitt Clinton services (Acc. No. 1971.94).

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