Jesse Benton Fremont remembered a dinner party in the White House during Andrew Jackson’s administration when “. . . we were taken to the state dining room where was the gorgeous supper table shaped like a horseshoe, and covered with every good and glittering thing French skill could devise.”1Fremont, 95 (also quoted in Klapthor 1975, 52). Indeed, the preponderance of French objects in the While House by the beginning of John Quincy Adams’s administration was so overwhelming that Congress felt moved to stipulate in the 1826 Appropriation Act for White House furnishings that purchases were to be of American-made objects “as far as practicable.”2Klipthor 1975, 49, discusses circumstances leading to the directive contained in this Act. This caveat, however, had no effect on china purchases. All presidents, beginning with George Washington and continuing throughout the nineteenth century, chose French porcelain for their tables. Furthermore, early nineteenth-century American porcelain tended to follow French styles in design. Little wonder, then, that fine mantel vases such as this pair were fashionable items in the American carriage trade.
Although these vases are not marked, their exquisite portraits of Washington and Benjamin Franklin may have been executed in Paris on porcelain that may have been made there as well.3Like all vases of this type, these were made in two parts, with the lower section of foot and pedestal bolted to the upper vase. The excessive wear on the gilding of the lower sections of this pair suggests that the bottoms were replaced at a later date, probably to preserve the paintings of the upper sections. During the early nineteenth century, foreign buyers favored Paris porcelains, which were considered “more elegant and cheaper” than the wares from the national factory in Sevres.4The diary of Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816), the wealthy American patriot, is quoted in de Guillebon, 300; see also 297–311 for more information on the export of Paris porcelain to the United States. This preference had arisen, in part, because Parisian manufacturers catered aggressively to the desires of foreigners in providing both forms and decorations to suit American and English as well as Continental tastes. The firms continued to do business from Paris even after their factories, and sometimes also their decorating studios, were moved closer to clay sources in Limoges.
Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.