A Tea Party
This is an early example of an English 'Conversation Piece', or informal group portrait, a genre whose evolution was largely informed by Van Aken's knowledge of Dutch and Flemish interior subjects. The figures are dressed in fashionable indoor clothes, the man in an informal gown with a loose cap, instead of a wig. According to period inventories, the room contains fewer objects than normal for a middle-class home, although the objects that are shown signify wealth and gentility. In the 18th century tea was a luxury item, drunk from porcelain tea-bowls without handles, imported from China. The rest of the tea equipment, such as the tripod stand and burner, plate, kettle and measuring spoon depicted in this painting, was usually made of silver. Van Aken, who came to London from Antwerp around 1720, began painting group portraits and genre scenes, before specialising in painting drapery from around 1735. He became the leading exponent of this sub-genre in England, and by the time of his death had painted drapery for almost every important artist of the day.
Gallery text panel Face and Place Portraiture and Landscape in the 18th Century A dramatic growth in Britain's wealth during the 1700s brought about an increased demand for art and design. Hundreds of grand houses were built or improved and many were filled with impressive private collections. The prominent display of paintings and decorative arts demonstrated their owners' status and taste. Portraiture became particularly fashionable, leading to rising numbers of 'face painters' and to an increase in the quality of their work. The ability to capture a likeness was most important but artists could also enhance a sitter's image with qualities such as prestige, wisdom or power. New public exhibitions gave artists a shop window and the Royal Academy, founded in 1768, organised the most important annual show. Amid this developing climate of enthusiasm for art, landscape painting also began its remarkable evolution. Landscape arose from a need to accurately record views and was first thought to be of little artistic merit. But as painters grew in confidence during the later 1700s it was treated with more creativity and seriousness, establishing a distinctive tradition in British art.
A Tea Party
unframed: 37.4cm x 45.7cm
framed: 53.2cm x 61.4cm
Place of creation
[G19] Manchester Art Gallery - Gallery 19 (Design Gallery)
Bequeathed by Mr and Mrs Assheton-Bennett.
© Manchester Art Gallery