Reprint of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 60, no. 3 (Winter, 2003).; Catalogue for the exhibition "Chinese Export Porcelain at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," held at the Museum from January 14 to July 13, 2003.
"By the eighteenth century trade between China and Europe had expanded from a quest for spices to embrace tea, textiles, silver, and porcelain. Porcelain was incidental to the success of this trade, constituting 6 percent or less of the value of East India Company cargoes. But the quantity of exported porcelains - some 300 million pieces are believed to have reached England over two centuries - ensured a lasting influence on Western taste and ceramics history. Several hundred thousand blue and white porcelains received yearly in ports from London to Gothenburg graced shelves, cabinets, and dinner and tea tables, as the novelty of the material impelled its reinvention by fledgling European porcelain factories. An entirely new aesthetic-part Western, part Asian-emerged with private traders, who gave rein to their individual tastes by ordering, directly from China, specially designed porcelains painted with armorials, views, or timely images based on drawings and prints. Today, part of the appeal of Chinese export porcelain lies in the biographical and historical contexts of these orders, which provide a personal element that is particular to the porcelain trade. The foundation of the Museum's collection of Chinese export porcelain for the European trade was the Helena Woolworth McCann Collection of about four thousand pieces, which was formed in the late 1930s in Europe and the United States and focused on eighteenth-century armorial services. Half of the collection was lent to the Metropolitan in 1946, and 414 pieces were given to the Museum in 1951 by the Winfield Foundation, established by the McCann family. By agreement with the foundation, and in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the remainder of the McCann Collection was dispersed among twenty-four American museums. Subsequent additions, for the most part generously supported by the Winfield Foundation, have been made with a view to illustrating more of the stylistic and cultural interactions between China and Europe that have come to light over two decades of ever-widening scholarship. No single collection, donor, or collector stands out among our American-market porcelains. Works with important American connections were bought during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. What is consistent in the pattern of acquisitions is that a number of significant porcelains were not "collected" per se but cherished and passed down from generation to generation of family members, who felt, ultimately, that the best place for their heirlooms to be cared for and appreciated was at the Metropolitan Museum. I refer in particular to superb examples given by Verplanck descendants and to three great American-market punch bowls made for John Lamb, Benjamin Eyre, and Ebenezer Stevens, as well as to the large Paine service, a gift from the family. The authors of this Bulletin are Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts, and Clare Le Corbeiller, curator emerita in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, who retired from the Museum in 2000. We are delighted to have her contribution to this issue and to note that she maintains a strong presence at the Metropolitan. Through her impeccable curatorial practices and numerous important acquisitions, and as a stimulating mentor to colleagues and students, she has made a lasting mark on this institution as well as on the field of decorative arts. " excerpt from Director's note by Philippe de Montebello.
Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2003
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