Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Market, an exhibition of exceptional ceramics from the collection of Mr. H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. and the Dietrich American Foundation, will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from April 17 through July 17, 1998. This distinctive hard-paste porcelain was produced in China as early as the 9th century, and eventually became a prime export to European and North American markets. The installation, in Gallery 106 in the American Wing on the Museum's first floor, will include punch bowls, cider jugs, a mantel garniture, custard cups, plates and a tea service. Featured will be pieces that once belonged to George and Martha Washington, the Morris family of Philadelphia, the Van Rensselaers of Albany, New York, and other prominent families of the Federal period.
Sets of Chinese export porcelain were prized by prosperous Americans, who particularly favored the Fitzhugh pattern decorated in blue, green or orange. Popular decorative schemes included landscapes and architectural scenes, masonic and heraldic symbols, and patriotic motifs.
The ancient European trade in exotic goods from East Asia, including tea, spices, silk and cotton as well as ceramics, greatly intensified in the 16th century as a result of Portuguese and Spanish exploration, and was later further expanded by the Dutch East India Company as well as Great Britain's Honourable East India Company. In 1784, the Empress of China (backed by Philadelphia financier Robert Morris) set sail from New York, establishing the first direct American link with Canton. Other ports along the eastern seaboard of the United States, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and Salem, soon became major points of arrival for imported Chinese porcelain.
The permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art include many fine examples of Chinese export porcelain and other household items imported from East Asia during the early years of the United States. In 1984, the Museum presented Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844, an exhibition that explored the city's pivotal contributions to this important sphere of cultural and economic exchange.