Declaring Independence

The overglaze enamel decoration on these Chinese export porcelains is based on a painting by John Trumbull that depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Part of a much larger group of 63 pieces, these porcelains with patriotic imagery were sold to Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont in 1948. Scholars have dated the porcelain as early as the late 1700s and as late as the 1890s, with the majority citing 1876, at the time of the American centennial celebration.

What is Chinese export porcelain?

Chinese export porcelain (CEP) refers to porcelain goods made in China between the 1500s and 1900s, specifically for export, usually to Europe or North America.

John Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence was painted between 1786 and 1820. A larger version of this original is displayed in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The image was reproduced in prints throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Chinese artists probably based their overglaze enamel decoration on one of these later versions or possibly on an illustration from a guidebook for the U.S. Capitol.

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
John Trumbull; 1786−1820
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery




This enlargement shows the overglaze enamel decoration based on Trumbull’s painting entitled The Declaration of Independence. The decoration was found on a large set of Chinese export porcelains, where the image was adapted to suit the different size and shapes of the ceramics.


Made in China; 1920-38
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1966.645.1



Fuchs, Ronald W. II, and Jennifer L. Mass. “Deciphering The Declaration of Independence on Chinese Export Porcelain.” American Ceramic Circle Journal 15 (2009): 169−87.