Gallery 286, second floor
This small and highly significant exhibition highlights the brilliant work that characterizes Philadelphia's first commercially produced porcelain. Modeled on English prototypes, the surviving ornamental tablewares—diminutive baskets, sauceboats, pickle dishes, and pickle stands decorated with a variety of underglaze blue painted motifs—are relics of the American China Manufactory, which was situated in the Southwark section of Philadelphia and operated between 1770 and 1772. Today, the few surviving wares documented to the colonial Philadelphia factory are known as "Bonnin and Morris" in honor of the factory's proprietors, British-born Gousse Bonnin and Philadelphian George Anthony Morris. This exhibition assembles the 19 known surviving examples of Bonnin and Morris's soft-paste porcelain for the first time.
Philadelphia's American China Manufactory was conceived after the success of what has recently been discovered to be the earliest porcelain-producing factory in America, John Bartlam's factory located outside of Charleston, South Carolina, which is known to have operated in late 1760s but from which no pieces survive. Bonnin and Morris were involved at some level with Bartlam's factory and certainly monitored its success and the reasons for its failure. In addition, they advertised in Charleston newspapers for skilled workers in the production of porcelain to come to Philadelphia and work in their factory, a fact that helps explain the aesthetic relationship between Bonnin and Morris wares and shards excavated from the Bartlam site.
Philadelphia was the perfect setting for the establishment of this commercial venture, and its vibrant intellectual community—home to such venerable institutions as the Library Company of Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society—played a key role in promoting American manufacturing and trade interests. It also reflected the interest in the pseudoscience of alchemy, which appealed to several prominent Philadelphians who patronized the local porcelain factory such as John Cadwalader, Thomas Wharton, and Benjamin Franklin.
Important archaeological remains from the American China Manufactory factory site and domestic sites within Independence National Historical Park are also being displayed in this exhibition to help place the work of Bonnin and Morris within the artistic, social, intellectual, and economic landscape of late colonial Philadelphia.
This exhibition is supported by The Kathleen C. and John J. F. Sherrerd Fund for Exhibitions, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Linda H. Kaufman, and Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley • Associate Curator of American Art