Following the opening of Japan to Western trade in the 1850s, Europeans and Americans became increasingly enamored of Japanese art and design, especially in the medium of metalwork. Inspired by the naturalism found in many imported Japanese products, American firms produced silver wares that relied on natural forms for decoration and sometimes shape. As this fruit plate attests, Gorham, perhaps more than others, excelled at naturalistic trompe l'oeil work.
This custom-ordered plate is one of three types made by Gorham in 1880 and 1881. Depicting the seasonal cycle, a traditional motif in Japanese art, one example features the spring scene of apple branches in blossom. This version has branches in full fruit in summer; the third type has branches supporting a spiderweb in late fall. Because of the plates' complex applied decoration, their production was labor intensive and thus expensive; each cost $150 to make. Requiring forty-seven hours to create, the appliqués on the Dallas plate are particularly fine. The leaves, for example, are engraved with veins and feature "worm holes." The branch border along the rim may well have been cast from a real apple tree twig.
"Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection," page 238