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Exhibitions/ Art Object


ca. 1790
Probably made in England
British, probably
92 x 77 1/2 in. (233.7 x 196.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Ellen H. Getman, in memory of her husband, Frederick Hutton Getman, 1945
Accession Number:
Not on view
The scenes printed on this quilt depict English Captain James Cook's third voyage to the Hawaiian Islands in 1779. The first three vignettes show the peaceful island lifestyle and Cook's arrival. In the final scene, however, Cook's lifeless body lies amidst rampaging Hawaiians after a conflict with the islanders. A dagger is raised above Cook, a morbid reminder that his body was dismembered and the parts distributed among high-ranking chiefs. Such images were part of the process of constructing, memorializing, and circulating the image of a national hero who personified Britain's aspirations of maritime dominance.
This wholecloth quilt incorporates two English printed cottons, both from about 1785. Although it was owned by a family in New York State, the quilt was most likely made in England and brought over to America by an immigrating family, or imported by a merchant soon after it was made. Eighteenth-century business records show that American merchants ordered bedcoverings of all types to be shipped from England, and individuals could order quilts through London agents to be made to their specifications in terms of color and fabric choice.

The quilt’s two printed cottons are well documented. The top is printed with trails of exotic flowers that may have been copied from the designs of Jean Pillement (1728-1808), who published books of ornaments in what was at the time considered to be "the Chinese manner." These designs were used by textile printers, painters, and decorators. Although Pillement was French, he spent much of his working life in London, where many of his designs were first published. The fabric was copperplate-printed at the Bromley Hall Printworks during the period the firm was being operated by Joseph Talwin and Joseph Foster. It is definitively identified by a paper impression of the print that is in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection of Bromley Hall papers. The paper impression is inscribed "P. 13 Talwin & Foster," and, given that Talwin and Foster ran the firm together only between 1785 and 1790, the fabric must have been printed during those years. The backing fabric, made of a less tightly woven cotton, also dates from the 1780s. It is printed with scenes illustrating Captain James Cook’s visits to and death in the Sandwich Islands (the former name of the Hawaiian Islands). Some of the scenes are copied from engravings in Captain Cook’s books about his travels. He was killed by natives at Owhyhee on February 14, 1779, and the fabric, which served as one of many memorials to him, was probably printed soon after that date.
American quilts are not usually quilted with the patterns seen on this piece; its ornate panels and fan shapes are far more common to English quilts, another reason we assume that the quilt was made in England. Unfortunately, however, we have no conclusive provenance for the work. When an inquiry was made in this regard, one member of the donor’s family wrote that Mrs. Getman received the quilt when it was used as a protective packing wrapped around a sewing machine shipped to her by a cousin in Upstate New York. Mrs. Getman realized the value of this special eighteenth-century work and donated it to the Museum.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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