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"The Union Hall" Punch Bowl

By Ellen Stauffer
PHP Intern, summer 2012
Washington & Lee University


porcelain punchbowlA Chinese export porcelain punch bowl can be viewed on the small dining table in the Breakfast Room at Pebble Hill. This piece dates back to the late 18th or early 19th century and is decorated on the exterior with fox hunting scenes. Fox hunting, a sport enjoyed by the Hanna family and their friends, is a popular theme often seen on decorative items at Pebble Hill. The interior of the bowl has an inscription “The Union Hunt” surrounding a singular image of a running fox. The lovely piece would technically be called a punch bowl, but today we would more likely associate it with a large serving or salad bowl.

The symmetry and balance indicate that this piece was “thrown on the wheel.” Once the potter was pleased with the shape of the bowl, it would be allowed to dry to “a leather hard state” before being fired in a kiln. The initial firing would have occurred in Jingdezhen (an inland city known as the porcelain capitol of China) where all the porcelain was made at that time. The bowl would then be sent to Canton (major trading center on the Chinese coast) for decorating.

The hand-painted decorative floral border, the central element in the base interior, and the exterior decoration were all overglazed*. Evidence of this is apparent because the chipping in the ware’s interior would not have happened if it had been decorated using an underglaze* that bonds with the porcelain under the protective coating of a glaze. Additionally the use of pink, green, orange, brown, and gold pigments on the bowl indicates overglazing. The only two colors used for underglazing were red and blue. The porcelain punch bowl would have been decorated with overglaze enamel in Canton where, since the mid-1700s, muffle kilns* were used to fire personalized designs. Since orders were placed by merchants in Canton “hongs”*, and the overglaze enameling done there as well, the whole process of ordering custom porcelain was greatly expedited. The time saved made pieces less expensive.

Modern foxhunting, as depicted on this bowl, developed in England in the late 18th Century. The foxhunting scene decorating the bowl has a distinct Chinese style that is obvious in the rocks, trees, riders, and fox depictions. The scene was likely copied by a Chinese artist from a print brought by the merchant for the family who commissioned the bowl. The piece would have almost certainly been ordered for British patrons and through a British merchant of the British East India Company. This company was active through the early to mid 19th century. A less likely possibility is that the bowl was ordered through an American merchant after the British East India Company began to decline in the 1780s.

*Overglaze is a method of decorating ceramic articles by applying decoration to an object after it has been glazed.

*Underglaze is a method of decorating ceramic articles by applying decoration to the surface of an object before it is glazed.

*Muffle kiln is a smaller kiln used to fire decorative pottery. Flames do not enter the kiln therefore delicate colors are protected.

inside bowl*Hongs were the major business houses in Canton. They were influential in developing world trade, manufacturing, consumer taste and other key areas of the economy.

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