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An American Vision: Henry Francis Du Pont's Winterthur Museum

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An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum


June 30, 2007 - September 23, 2007


Mint Museum of Art


Located near Wilmington, Delaware, Winterthur is an American country estate, well-known for its garden, library and museum, that has belonged to the du Pont family since 1837. Henry Francis du Pont, born in 1880, was an avid and lifelong collector whose collection is considered the greatest in American decorative arts. Du Pont's collection holds 85,000 pieces made or used in America between settlement and 1860 and chronicles American history during that time.


In honor of Winterthur's 50th anniversary in 2002, the Mint Museum of Art is one of the three venues hosting the Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum exhibition. The exhibition will present over 300 pieces from Winterthur's collection, including furniture, silver, ceramics, textiles and paintings. The items on display will be arranged in vignettes to reveal how they would have appeared in an original setting. Overall, the exhibition will focus on five different time periods, each with its own artistic theme, and the collection's decorative arts will be organized within their time period. The exhibition's themes are arranged chronologically below, online and print resources are provided for each theme. Books cited are available at the Mint Museums library.


Early Settlement and Sophistication: seventeenth-century America.

During the 17th century, wealthy American settlers demonstrated their affluent taste by acquiring valuable home objects. Because foreign-made objects were precious to the colonists, American artisans began to emerge and create similar decorative arts, including large, carved furniture, elegant silver as well as elaborate garments and textiles. These works by American artists were received well by the colonists. Even now these objects are in great demand.


  • Reutlinger, Dagmar E. The Colonial Epoch in America. Worcester, MA: Worcester Art Museum, 197. Exhibition catalogue of early American art with a good chapter on colonial portraiture.


  • Early America The Library of Congress's website of online resources on early America, includes lesson plans and sites for students and teachers.


East Meets West: The influence of the Far East on American taste and design.

Arts from the East, such as silks, porcelains and lacquerwares, were popular in Europe and America from the 17th century to the 19th century. Some Westerners acquired these objects through the East to West trade markets, while others bought domestic or European-made objects that had an Eastern motif.


For more examples of porcelain with Chinese motifs, take a look in the Delhom Gallery at the Mint in Cases 19-26.


  • Palmer, Arlene M. A Winterthur Guide to Chinese Export Porcelain. NY: Crown Publishers, 1976. Overview of porcelain trade with China. Images and descriptions of a variety of porcelain objects.


  • Chinoiserie, 1750-1825 An article by Wendell Garrett about chinoiserie and japanning on the Sack Heritage Group website. Links to additional articles by him on Thomas Chippendale, Rococo and much more.


A Passion for Rococo: The mid-eighteenth century high styles of the urban centers.

Derived from the French word rocaille, the rococo style refers to the popular, rocklike creations found in 18th century grottoes. Inspired by elements of nature, this style incorporated images of trees, shells, and flowers into art. For example, these images were engraved into silver, carved into furniture, and patterned on textiles.


  • Flexner, James Thomas. America's Old Masters. NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982. Describes the life and art of John Singleton Copley and Charles Wilson Peale, two artists whose works are featured in this section of the exhibit.
  • Heckscher, Morrison H. and Leslie Greene Bowman. American Rococo, 1750-1775: Elegance in Ornament. NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1992. Detailed information about the Rococo period broken into chapters about certain types of objects (ex. silver and furniture).
  • Hummel, Charles F. A Winterthur Guide to American Chippendale Furniture: Middle Atlantic and Southern Colonies. NY: Crown Publishers, 1976. Images and descriptions of Chippendale furniture.



  • The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director Thomas Chippendale's book available online from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection's Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. Many other digitized primary sources are available from this site. Highly recommended.



The images featured above are pages from the The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director.


The Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans: The tremendous cultural heritage of the Pennsylvania German communities.

The values and aesthetic standards of the 18th century Pennsylvania Germans were reflected in their materials. Color and creativity, which were important aspects of their lives, were incorporated onto their decorative arts and home objects. For example, beautiful flowers and ornate animals embellished furniture and fraktur.


  • Kauffman, Henry. Pennsylvania Dutch: American Folk Art. NY: American Studio Books, 1946. A number of examples of painted chests, along with a good overview of Pennsylvania Dutch art.


  • Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur Gallery [ Note: link no longer active 4/26/2011]Lots of examples of fraktur.
  • Article from the Orlando Sentinel on "The Art of Fraktur."   [link added 4/26/11]
  • Pennsylvania German Folk Art from the Index of American Design at the National Gallery of Art.


American Classicism: The influence of classicism on American design in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

A deep interest in classicism grew in Europe during the 1740s, while classical designs were being discovered on artworks found during the excavations of Roman and Grecian archaeological sites. Such classical designs inspired the decorative arts of Europe in the mid-18th century. In the late 18th century, classicism strongly influenced American art. Classical elements and motifs inspired some of the nation's emblems, including the Roman eagle in the US seal. Also, American heroes, such as George Washington, were depicted in classical attire.


For more examples of American Classicism take a look at the jasperware of Josiah Wedgwood located in Case 14 of the Delhom Gallery at the Mint. Also, in the Robiscek Gallery the current costume exhibition Dressed to Impress showcases fashion from the 18th and 19th century. Much of the jewelry on display is classical in style. Furthermore, the Alexander Gallery has some examples of American Classicism. In particular the Gilbert Stuart painting of Isaac Gouverneur.


  • Cooper, Wendy A. Classical Taste in America, 1800-1840. NY: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993. Previous exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art curated by Wendy Cooper, who is the curator for An American Vision.
  • Flexner, James Thomas. America's Old Masters. NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982. Discusses the life and art of Benjamin West, artist whose work is presented in the American Classicism section.
  • McClelland, Nancy. Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency. NY: William R. Scott, 1939. Information about the Classical Revival and how Duncan Phyfe's cabinetry fit into this style.
  • Whitley, William T. Gilbert Stuart. NY: Da Capo Press, 1969. A history of Gilbert Stuart's life and travels.


  • World History of Art: Neoclassicism This website has links to artist pages that include images and biographical information. Also, it has a very detailed introduction. The main page includes links to art from the around the world and throughout time.


Online General Resources




In Print


  • American Art: 1750-1800 Towards Independence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1976. Essays and images of 18th century American art and culture, including Thomas Chippendale and his book The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director that influenced American furniture with the rococo style. Also, provides information concerning the Pennsylvania German style in various decorative arts. Images of paintings, furniture, silver, brass, ceramics, glass, and textiles arts created between 1750-1800. Some are works created by the artists featured in this exhibition.
  • Baigell, Matthew. A Concise History of American Painting and Sculpting. NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. This book was used as a textbook at UNCC for an American Art History course. The first two chapters give a good overview of early American art and it includes many images by John Singleton Copley, John Trumball, Charles Wilson Peale, Gilbert Stewart and others featured in the exhibition.
  • Cantor, Jay E. Winterthur. NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1985. Excellent resource. Description, images, and history of Winterthur as well as information about Henry Francis du Pont's life and his collection of decorative arts.
  • Cooper, Wendy A. An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2002. The catalog for the exhibition. Available at the Mint Shop!
  • Fales, Martha Gandy. American Silver in the Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur Museum. Delaware: Winterthur, 1958. Specific examples of silver in the Winterthur.
  • Gruber, Alain, ed. The History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe. NY: Abbeville Press, 1996. Excellent resource on Classicism. Also includes sections on chinoiserie and Rococo.
  • Hood, Graham. American Silver: A History of Style, 1650-1900. NY: Praeger Publishers, 1971. Gives great biographical information about most of the silversmiths in the exhibition. Also includes lots of images.
  • Sweeney, John A. H. Winterthur Illustrated. NY: Chanticleer Press, 1963. Gives examples of how the Winterthur arranges its collection.
  • Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Philadelphia, PA: Pearl-Pressman-Liberty, 1984. Images and descriptions of the different rooms and gardens at Winterthur.


Glossary of Terms


Chinoiserie- An object decorated with patterns and motifs associated with the Chinese. This was especially prevelant in 18th century Europe.


Chintz- A brightly printed and glazed cotton fabric.


Delftware- Tin-glazed earthenware.


Fraktur- A Pennsylvania-German tradition of watercolor or watercolor and ink painting with elaborate calligraphy and motifs that decorated documents for important events (births, marriages, deaths).


Grisaille- A painting done in shades of gray.


Japanning- To apply a coat of black, glossy varnish (usually to furniture).


Lacquerware- A decorative work made of wood and covered with lacquer, a protective coating that gives wood a polished and shiny appearance.


Klismos- An ancient Greek chair whose style was copied during the American Classicism period. Most notably these chairs have legs that curve inward and a wide top rail on the back.


Palampore- A woven, cotton print made in India typically used for clothing and bedclothes.


Rocaille- The rococo style of decoration which used shell, rock and plant forms combined with artificial forms, like the C-curve.


Sgraffito- A mural or ceramic piece created by scratching off the surface layer to reveal the color(s) underneath.


Spatterware- A painting style for pottery where the designs were sponged or hand-painted in bright colors on a white background.



Page started by Mint Museum intern Candace Sailstad.

Updated by Library Assistant Shawn Reynolds.


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