From a table and tea service for George Washington (President 1789-1797)

Artist/maker unknown, Chinese, for export to the American market

Made in China, Asia


Hard paste porcelain, lead glaze, underglaze blue, enamel, and gilded decoration

Diameter: 9 1/2 inches (24.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 106, American Art, first floor (McNeil Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection, 2006

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Additional information:
  • PublicationAmerican Presidential China: The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    George Washington (1732–1799)
    President, 1789–97

    The first American president acknowledged the social importance of a fashionably equipped dining table as early as 1757 when, as a young bachelor, he ordered “fine china dishes” from an English merchant.1 Throughout his lifetime of public service and private occupation, George Washington participated substantially in matters of domestic taste and style. Memorabilia, including porcelains, from the Washington household have descended through the grandchildren of Martha Washington: Eliza Parke Custis Law (1776–1832), Martha Parke Custis Peter (1777–1854), Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1852), and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857).

    Colonel Henry (“Lighthorse Harry”) Lee (1756–1818) purchased a 302-piece Chinese export porcelain table and tea service in New York in 1786 for his friend, George Washington. Each piece was decorated with an underglaze blue “Fitzhugh” border, an enameled figure of Fame, and the eagle emblem of the Society of the Cincinnati. In 1783, General Washington had become the first president of the Society, an association of former officers in the American Revolution. The “Cincinnati” china arrived in New York in May 1785 aboard the Empress of China, the first American ship to trade directly with Canton.2 The service was used in at least two of the three presidential residences in New York and Philadelphia as well as at Mount Vernon.

    Other later examples, made for founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati, were acquired for comparison to the earlier Washington service. These Chinese export porcelains were decorated about 1790 with various configurations of Society of the Cincinnati motifs. Susan Gray Detweiler, from American Presidential China: The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008), p. 26.

    1) “Invoice of goods shipped by Richd Washington to George Washington from London, per the Sally,” August 20, 1757. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George Washington Papers. Cited in Susan Gray Detweiler, George Washington’s Chinaware (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1982), p. 200.
    2) Detweiler, George Washington’s Chinaware, p. 84.

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