Although the brightly colored, late 18th-century painted enamel teapot has little known provenance before Henry du Pont acquired it for Winterthur in 1963, it is not difficult to imagine a wealthy English person in the late 1700s using it to pour tea for guests in the drawing room. In the intervening centuries, age and a life that may not always have been quite so genteel have taken a toll on the teapot, as Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) Fellow Allison Kelley found this year when it came to her as a treatment project. Allison, an objects major with a preventive minor, documented discolored and flaking overpaint, loss of some of the base layer of enamel, exposed and oxidized spots of copper, and a large area of restoration that likely masked additional damage.
The teapot was probably made in what is now Guangzhou (Canton), China for the English and American markets sometime between 1750 and 1800, based on skills taught to Chinese craftsmen by Jesuit missionaries a century earlier. Round with a curved spout and a handle, the teapot is made of copper and coated with white enamel that was then decorated with polychrome enamel decorations in pinks, blues, and greens. The decorations depict Chinese figures in Chinese settings and are unusual because decorations on teapots created for the export trade typically showed Western figures in European settings. This difference helps create a bit of mystique around the little object, which represents one of the earliest junctions of western trade with China and the cultural intersection of four countries – France, China, England, and the United States.