James Monroe, Secretary of State (1811–1817) and President of the United States for two terms (1817–1825), is remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, outlined in 1823, that forbids European colonization or interference in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe also finished the reconstruction and redecoration of the White House in the highest French Empire style, following its destruction by the British in 1814.
Although the White House was largely completed when Monroe took office in 1817, the family could not move in immediately. Plans were made to achieve occupancy by the fall, when formal entertaining would be a necessity. As a resident of France on two earlier diplomatic missions, Monroe was quite conversant in the motifs, proportions, and materials of the fashionable French Empire style. Monroe enlisted as his agents the firm of Russell and Lafarge at Le Havre, France and put his friend William Lee in charge of overseeing the decorative scheme he had devised.1For more information on this furnishing program, see Klapthor 1975, 40–41.
On November 11, 1817, the ship Resolution arrived at Alexandria, Virginia, with a white and gold table service (now lost) and a 166-piece dessert service for thirty, both made in Paris. The dessert service included flat plates such as this one and deep plates, as well as a variety of serving dishes, chestnut and sugar bowls, ice cream urns, and fruit baskets. Because of the importance attached to the presentation of dessert at a formal meal during the 18th and 19th centuries, the dishes for the course were often more elaborate than those for dinner. This service is well known today because of its striking and elegant design and its thorough description in the original invoice.2Identification of this service was also aided by the fact that a large group of pieces from the service was preserved during the 19th century by the Washington, D.C., auctioneer James C. McGuire. The group eventually passed to Henry Francis du Pont and is now displayed at Winterthur. See ibid., 41. Other pieces are at the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and in private collections. The amaranth border contains five vignettes representing (clockwise from top) Commerce, Art, Strength, Agriculture, and Science. The animated eagle of the Great Seal appears to be soaring in the heavens. It is the first known use of this element on White House china.
The firm of Dagoty and Honoré was one of several in Paris that produced porcelains of the highest quality and fashion of the day.3For more information on the work of Dagoty and Honoré, see Fäy-Hallé and Mundt, 40–44. Although Paris porcelain was first made in the 1770s when Limoges clay became available and the monopoly of the royal manufactory at Sévres was broken, its great flowering was during the first half of the 19th century. Pierre Louis Dagoty had been making porcelain with his brothers since the French Revolution but became sole proprietor of the factory in 1804. François Maurice Honoré, in the business since 1806, merged his operation with Dagoty’s on behalf of his son, Édouard, in 1816. The partnership was short-lived, but their work was exceptional.
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.