Cream pitcher (part of a two-piece tea service)

1790–1825
Charles Alexander Burnett (1769–1848)


Object Place: Alexandria, Virginia or Georgetown, District of Columbia, United States

Dimensions

18.8 x 15 x 10 cm (7 3/8 x 5 7/8 x 3 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

1971.335

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The capacious, raised, helmet-shaped pitcher has an elliptical, stepped foot and a bulbous lower portion. Sections of applied gadrooning are soldered at shoulder, below vessel, and on foot. The broad spout is acccented with narrow gadrooned decoration. The tall two-part cast handle is soldered vertically to the top of the vessel, with curled thumbgrip at apex. The handle curves steeply downward to a C-scroll element that is soldered to lower section of the creamer; air vent appears on scrolled section inside handle.


In the early decades of the new republic, as Americans from every state in the union were called to serve their country, many began to settle in the shadow of the nation’s capital. These elected officials and their families sought to purchase well-appointed homes and furnishings for their new surroundings. These new arrivals were served by a growing body of Washington-area mercantile establishments and craftspeople who prospered in their wake.
Charles Alexander Burnett was among the most prominent silversmiths to serve this burgeoning population during the early federal years. Due to the similarities of Burnett’s work to silver produced in Philadelphia and particularly Baltimore, Jennifer Goldsborough has conjectured that Burnett received his training in the Mid-Atlantic region and later used his early craft relationships to purchase milled bands and other decorative elements from these more active silversmithing centers.
Burnett worked in Alexandria, Virginia, by the 1790s and shortly thereafter moved to Washington, D.C., where his work was in demand in government circles. He made a skippet that housed the seal for the Treaty of Ghent, many domestic services, presentation silver, and Indian trade silver. His patrons included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Clay.
The Neoclassical style of this service, with its elliptical form and narrow bands of stamped gadrooning, was popular throughout the eastern seaboard from about 1790 to 1825. The engraved initials “BW” on the teapot body have been ascribed to Bushrod Washington, who trained as a lawyer and worked in Alexandria, Virginia. He married Julia Ann Blackburn in 1785 and moved to Richmond in 1790. Washington was appointed associate justice to the Supreme Court by President John Adams in 1798. Given the dates of Washington’s career, his marriage date, and his Alexandria origins, the tea service could have been made by Burnett shortly after he began working on his own, or later, when both men were working in the capital. Twelve goblets engraved with the family arms were also made for Bushrod Washington by Burnett and date to the same period.
These two pieces are linked by the monogram of its original owner, but their dissimilar styles indicate that they may have been made at different dates or assembled from two services. The distinctive looped handle of the creamer is stylistically similar to one on a coffeepot by Burnett that is dated 1795. The engraved cartouche of the teapot is closely related to one found on another service dated 1815 – 25 and bearing the initials “L. B. B.” As the taste of the period favored increasingly larger services for display on sideboards and entertaining, the teapot and creamer may have originally been accompanied by a sugar bowl and waste bowl, as in the service made by Burnett for Richard Cutts.

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.

Inscription

"BW" in entwined sprigged script monogram on body of vessel to right of handle. Lightly scratched "3033" inside foot rim.

Markings

Stamped "C.A. BURNETT" in roman letters within a rectangle on bottom of vessel below center point.

Provenance

Probably purchased from Burnett by Bushrod Washington (1762 – 1829) of Alexandria, Virginia, a nephew of George Washington. In 1785 the younger Washington m. Julia Ann Blackburn (1768 – 1829) of Rippon Lodge, Virginia, daughter of Col. Thomas Blackburn, an aide-de-camp to General Washington. The couple had no issue. Subsequent ownership is unknown until 1938, when it was placed on loan to the MFA by Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) (1871 – 1961) of Boston, and transferred in 1962 to her children, Mrs. R. C. Barton (Rachel Warren) (b. 1892) and Hamilton Warren, of Harvard, Massachusetts, and County Wicklow, Ireland, who sold it to the Museum in 1971.

Credit Line

Marion D. Davis Fund