Hard–paste porcelain; H. 15 7/8 in. (40.3 cm)
Gift of R. Thornton Wilson, in memory of Florence Ellsworth Wilson, 1950 (50.211.217)
This figure group is a tour de force of small-scale porcelain sculpture. In terms of its composition, the modeling of the figures, and the painted decoration, this group reflects the extraordinary skill achieved by the best of the European porcelain factories in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Höchst factory had been established in the late 1740s, and employed a succession of modelers before Johann Peter Melchior became head of the sculpture workshop in 1767. It is believed that this group was Melchior's first work for the factory. The composition of the group seems to have been inspired by François Boucher's oil sketch of 1742 entitled The Audience of the Chinese Emperor, which may have been known to Melchior through the intermediary of a print.
It is likely that Melchior's group was intended to decorate the table during the dessert course, and that it would have been accompanied by additional single figures or smaller groups. The Chinese subject matter reflects the ongoing popularity of chinoiserie themes in the second half of the eighteenth century.