Teapot (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

22.9 x 11.2 x 30.6 cm (9 x 4 7/16 x 12 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

1971.334

Medium or Technique

Silver with wooden handle

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The tall, raised, elliptical teapot has a raised stepped foot. The convex sides of the vessel rise to an urn-shaped finial through a series of undulating curves, punctuated by two narrow rows of applied and soldered bands of gadrooning. An engraved shield shape with palm leaf above surrounds the monogram and is encircled with foliate decoration. The elliptical, domed lid with flat five-part hinge is set upon the uppermost band of gadrooning; it has an urn-shaped finial and an air vent. A plain S-scroll spout is affixed over strainer holes and displays an applied boss on retracted upper lip. The original wooden handle has carved leafy decoration on its thumbgrip.


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, superimposed, sprigged script on body of vessel to right of handle.

Markings

Stamped on foot of vessel "C.A. BURNETT" in roman letters within a rectangle, flanked by eagle's head device.
Ada Mark X

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.

Sources:
American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1969) 1:228, cat. 868; 2:291, fig. 459; DAB 19:508-09; Vinetta Wells Ranke, comp, The Blackburn Genealogy with notes on the Washington Family through intermarriage (Washington, D.C.: V. W. Ranke, 1939, pp. 14, 24-7, 37.

Credit Line

Marion D. Davis Fund