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Meissen punch bowl: a Midnight Modern Conversation

Meissen punch bowl: a Midnight Modern Conversation

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TITLE: Meissen punch bowl
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H 6¼" 15.9cm; D. 11½" 29.2cm
OBJECT NAME: Punch bowl
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750-1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.40
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: J. J. Klejman, New York, 1968.
This piece is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.
The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.
The punch bowl has a basket weave relief border in the Old Ozier (Alt Ozier) pattern, below which is an onglaze enamel painted version of William Hogarth’s A Midnight Modern Conversation. Hogarth (1697-1764) painted the original work in oil on canvas, and in 1733 produced a print after his painting that was highly popular and imitated by many engravers. The painting can be seen at:
Hogarth treated his subject in a good-humored manner and in the first state of his print the caption reads: “Think not to find one meant Resemblance there/We lash the vices but the Persons spare.” A group of very inebriated gentlemen drink punch and wine until the early hours of the morning according to the clock, and the consequences of all that alcohol consumption are made clear allowing the viewer to respond with amusement or disgust according to their own inclination. On this punch bowl the men appear to be in a garden whereas the original painting and print depicts the group in an interior setting, probably an upstairs room of a London tavern. On the reverse side of the bowl the subject of excessive alcohol consumption continues as two men are served wine and punch while a third vomits on the ground beside the table.
Many British artists of the eighteenth century, Hogarth among them, painted collective portraits of families, of social assemblies, and professional gatherings that became known as conversation pieces. These fashionable works frequently depicted people gathered around the tea table and represented their social poise and status in polite society. Hogarth’s A Midnight Modern Conversation, however, represents the antithesis to any notions of politeness, a scene where social propriety breaks down. The moral purpose may be cautionary to those who drink the bowl’s contents.
It is possible that the bowl had a cover like the one seen on another Meissen example in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
On the print version of the subject see David Bindman, 1997, Hogarth and His times: Serious Comedy.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 280-281.
Currently not on view
Object Name
bowl, punch
date made
ca 1750-1760
c 1770
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
after William Hogarth (overall style)
overall: 6 1/4 in x 11 1/2 in; 15.875 cm x 29.21 cm
overall: 6 1/4 in x 11 11/16 in; 15.875 cm x 29.6545 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
collector/donor number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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