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Object Details

Maker
Unknown
Date
ca. 1815
Geography
China
Culture
China, for export
Medium
ceramic; porcelain with overglaze polychrome enamels
Dimensions
Overall: 2 7/16 in x 14 1/8 in x 9 11/16 in; 6.19125 cm x 35.8775 cm x 24.60625 cm
Provenance
Elinor Gordon, a Villanova, Pennsylvania, dealer; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
A banderole inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. John R. Williams
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1971.0071

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Object Essay

The term “Fitzhugh” refers to a group of Chinese export porcelain, usually blue-and-white patterns, made principally between ca. 1780 and ca. 1840. Elements that appear in this decorative group include a central medallion—sometimes replaced with a monogram or coat of arms—surrounded by four clusters of flowers and emblems most frequently associated with four accomplishments of the Chinese scholar: music, painting, analytical skill, and calligraphy. The whole is enclosed by either a trellis-diaper and spearhead border, sometimes called Nanking, or a complex design made up of butterfly, cell diaper, and floral motifs.      

The definition of this group has developed over a long period of time on both sides of the Atlantic. Sir Algernon Tudor-Craig was the first to suggest that Fitzhugh may have been a corrupted pronunciation of Foochow (Fuzhoy) for the port.1See Howard 1974, 53, for a discussion of Tudor-Craig’s first use of the term in 1927 and his 1929 explanation for its origins. J.B.S. Holmes pointed out, however, that Foochow was not a western port until the 1840s and was not associated with making or shipping of china during the period of the Fitzhugh pattern’s greatest popularity.2See Holmes, 130–31. Howard 1974, 53, suggests that the name may have been used in America during the 19th century. Mudge 1981, 165, notes references to the pattern in American manuscripts of the early 19th century. Holmes discovered that members of the English Fitzhugh family had played important roles in the British East India Company for over three generations as, variously, ship’s captain, supercargo, company director, and president of the Canton (Guangzhou) factory, warehouse, and office. In England, “true Fitzhugh” porcelains are those that mimic pieces associated with William FitzHugh, a supercargo at Canton who shipped china back to England in 1778, 1789, and 1791.  His pattern displays the characteristic medallion, four floral groups, and the trellis-diaper and spearhead border.

Fitzhugh patterns seem to have been more popular with Americans than with the English, reflecting the rise to prominence of the American traders at the time. Consequently, there is more variation in the examples that survive in this country.3See ibid., 165. Although the blue-and-white versions are more numerous, several other colors also appear including (in ascending order of  rarity) brown or sepia, orange, green, yellow, rose-pink, black or gray, overglaze blue enamel, lavender, and gilt.4Ibid., 1965, credits the China-Trade scholar, Crosby Forbes, with this identification and ranking. The most dramatic of the American-market Fitzhugh variations feature an eagle, magnificently spread, bearing a ribbon with “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and surrounded by the complex butterfly-and-flower border. The shield on the eagle’s breast may display the blue field and red-and-white stripes of the American flag or initials of the set’s original owner. The Collection’s plate (see Acc. 84.11), with the initials “BA,” was made for New York commission merchant, Benjamin Aymar.5Scoville, 69–79, discusses Aymar’s career and influence at length. In 1821, Aymar succeeded to the firm of Shedden, Patrick & Co., where he had begun as a clerk, and renamed it B. Aymar & Co. The firm “did business with all ports of the world” and traded in nearly every commodity. Aymar was still living when Scoville’s book was published in 1866. Scoville thought Aymar was at least seventy-six years old then and described him as a “regular business man. He started with an ordinary education, and excepting to eat and to drink and to sleep, he never cared for anything else, except business. Still, he and his firm have done as much as any one house to build up New York city” (ibid., 79).

Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.