Punch Bowl: "John Wilkes…"

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  • China
  • ca. 1765
  • Chinese export hard-paste porcelain
  • 2000-92

Eighteenth-century objects of daily life were sometimes a canvas for the support of colonial rights; such as is the case with this rare circa 1765 punch bowl. The two images decorating the sides of the bowl are based on English prints. The well-known depiction of John Wilkes is copied from William Hogarth's first edition engraving of May 16, 1763. Wilkes is shown seated holding a pole topped by a liberty cap in reference to the outspoken views expressed in his paper the North Britain. The image on the opposite side of the bowl is taken from a 1764 print entitled The Queen's Arms, A Night's Amusement. It presents three men forcing a bowl of punch upon a fourth, reluctant companion who is seated next to sheet music and a musical instrument. While the use of Wilkes as a symbol of colonial rights is well known, the meaning of the second print is more ambiguous. One plausible interpretation explores the concept of Britain forcing the unwilling colonists (represented by the protesting man) who are pressed to both swallow English legislation (the punch) and play the tune (represented by the musical instruments).

The decorative technique used on this punch bowl is known as grisaille or penciling. These terms refer to decoration on porcelain that is meticulously drawn in shades of gray and black with a fine brush (pencil). The Chinese painters responsible for this type of work achieved very fine detail that mimicked engraved prints.

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