Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth

A Tea Party

Joseph Van Aken (about 1699-1749), about 1720
Oil on canvas

Object number 1979.537
Bequeathed by Edgar Assheton-Bennett, 1979

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A Tea Party

Tea drinking first became popular in Britain during the early 1700s. At that time, tea was an expensive and exotic luxury, and tea parties were an important social event, indicating the host or hostess's social status, wealth and taste. Tea, sugar and the tea wares required to make and serve the drink were highly valued possessions generally kept under lock and key when not in use.

This painting shows in some detail the ceremonial nature of the tea party and the equipment it required. A silver tea kettle sits on a small burner in the centre of the room, accompanied by a fine porcelain bowl for the tea slops (leaves). The well-dressed and obviously wealthy guests drink from tiny delicate porcelain bowls, attended by a servant who brings a further silver kettle to the table.

As the century progressed, the use of enslaved labour increased the production of tea and sugar to such an extent that it became available to all classes in society.

This information was provided by curators from Manchester Art Gallery.