Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Painting of the Day: A Family of Three at Tea, 1727

A Family of Three at Tea
Richard Collins, 1727
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This type of painting is what is termed as a “conversation piece,” essentially meaning relaxed portraits of family groups or gatherings of friends. Wealthy families commissioned such conversation pieces to show their family and friends in their finest clothes and jewels along with the most valuable possessions of the household. In short, they were a way of recording the sitters’ importance and social status.

This painting is the work of Richard Collins and was painted either in Lincolnshire or Leicestershire. Collins (active 1726-1732) was trained under the Swedish-born, London-based portrait painter Michael Dahl (born about 1659; died 1743), and worked as a portrait painter in both Leicester and Lincolnshire.

The canvas we see here is one of two paintings by Collins of the same family drinking tea. The other is called “The Tea Party is at Goldsmiths' Hall, London.” The identities of the sitters aren’t known, but obviously, they are a highly fashionable family. They are depicted, as the V&A says, “sitting around a tea table, obviously proud of their up-to-date and valuable silver and porcelain, and also of their knowledge of the correct manner of taking tea. The tea equipage is a typical one of the first half of the 18th century. It includes a sugar dish, a tea canister, sugar tongs, a hot-water jug, a spoon boat with teaspoons, a slop bowl and a teapot with a lamp beneath it to keep the contents hot.”

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