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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

 
 
 
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
Tea Table
1740–90
Mahogany; no secondary woods intact

27 3/4 x 32 1/8 x 23 5/8 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection
Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America
 
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The distinctive “turret” top and boldly contoured skirt rails of this tea table combine to make it a dynamic Late Baroque creation. One of only five known examples, it is a rare type with numerous scalloped projections that neatly hold teacups and saucers with a teapot and other equipage at the center. The molded edge would have prevented the fragile tea wares from being accidently swept onto the floor. When compared with related tables, differences in their design, carving, and even the rim confirm that they represent the work of more than one shop. A documented source for this design has not been identified.

This table represents the fashionable practice of tea drinking in 18th-century America. Serving tea was a sign of politeness and hospitality, and drinking it was a custom of distinctive manners and specific equipment, such as teapots, teacups and saucers, teaspoons, and tea canisters. A sampling of 18th-century Boston inventories reveals that in some households all or part of the tea equipage was prominently displayed on the tea table, such as this one, rather than being stored in cupboards.