Ceramics Lecture Examines Winterthur’s Campbell Collection Of Soup Tureens

GREENWICH, CONN. — “A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” So wrote Willa Cather in her 1927 novel Death Comes to the Archbishop. And perhaps Patricia A. Halfpenny, author, curator and former collections director at the Henry F. DuPont Winterthur Museum would say, “...And there are a thousand years of history in this soup tureen.”

The rich collection of soup tureens given to Winterthur in 1997 by the Campbell Museum, including “magnificent ceramic pieces,” will be vividly illustrated in a lecture given by Halfpenny on Monday, February 11, at the Bruce Museum, beginning at 1 pm. Examples will include high prized silver and gilt tureens, and together with skillful, elegant and fanciful ceramic vessels “will help us understand the evolution of high style in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.”

The lecture is presented by the Connecticut Ceramics Study Circle.

From its humble beginnings, the history of the soup tureen is writ large in social and cultural life of Europe and America. A common staple of the early European dining table, soup was often the primary meal, served communally from a small lidded dish with handles, meant to be picked up and drunk from. Beginning with the France of Louis XIV, the classic peasant dish enjoyed by all became the tureen of high society. The soup tureen evolved into a large vessel, a table ornament and a symbol of one’s status and wealth. 

Though the origin of the word “tureen” is uncertain (it is sometimes linked to the French military hero Marshall Turenne, as well as to an earlier word, terrine, meaning “large, circular, earthenware dish”), the vessel entered the realms of fashion. Made from silver, porcelain, earthenware and stoneware, the tureen showed off the technical excellence and creativity of the finest factories and craftsmen of the period, such as Meissen, Sevres and Chelsea.

As dining habits changed, soup became a consistent first course at the tables of the court. Nobility and wealthy merchant families followed suit. An elegant or fanciful tureen could set the tone for the rest of the meal. It is no wonder silversmiths and porcelain factories vied for popularity and beauty with their richly ornamented tureens. With the advent of  the late-Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century manufacturing processes, such as transfer ware and the growth of the middle class, the soup tureen became widely used.

The Campbell collection of soup tureens was begun in 1966 by John T. Dorrance Jr, then chairman of the board of Campbell Soup Company. Dorrance was a member of Winterthur’s board of trustees from 1979 to 1986 and an honorary member until his death in 1989. His gift to Winterthur in 1997 was the inspiration for an exhibit in 2000, as well as a catalog Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur, co-authored by Halfpenny with Donald Fennimore.

Halfpenny began her career at City Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, as keeper of ceramics from 1980 to 1995. Her research, lectures and publications established her as a recognized authority on Staffordshire pottery, particularly that of the  Eighteenth Century. In 1995, she left England to become curator of ceramics and glass at Winterthur until her retirement in 2009.

This is the fifth presentation in an eight-month lecture series established by the Connecticut Ceramics Study Circle to promote the understanding of and appreciation for pottery and porcelain around the world. From October through May, well-regarded experts in the field of ceramics share their knowledge and expertise through this lecture series.  The lecture fee for nonmembers is $20.  As always, refreshments are included and served following all presentations.

The Bruce Museum is at One Museum Drive. For information, 914-921-0621 or email info@ctceramicscircle.org.

Tureen with blue-printed pattern depicting the Philadelphia Water Works, Joseph Stubbs, Staffordshire, England, circa 1825–30.

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