To the avid tea-drinker, your cup of tea may be a personal work of art. Maybe the sunlight hits your saucer just right in the morning, or perhaps the clinking of the teaspoon in your mug is the perfect aria in your quiet house at the end of a long day. Well, to the world’s most famous artists, tea has proven a worthy subject again and again. As a political commodity, economic link, and social lubricant, tea has always been so much more than just a beverage. How fitting, then, that it provide inspiration to prolific painters and sculptors throughout history. Here are three of our favorite works of art starring the world’s most consumed beverage:
1) Le Gouter (or Tea Time or Woman With a Teaspoon)
Jean Metzinger, 1911
Known as “The Mona Lisa of Cubism,” this 1911 oil painting on cardboard hails from French artist Jean Metzinger. It depicts a naked woman holding a teaspoon above her teacup. Metzinger is a prominent name in the cubist movement. He co-wrote Du Cubisme with Albert Gleizes, a theoretical book on cubism, and ran in the same circles as Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, and notable influence Pablo Picasso. You can visit this painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
2) Object (or Luncheon in Fur)
Meret Oppenheim, 1936
23-year-old Swiss artist Meret Oppenheimer created this gazelle fur-covered teacup, spoon, and saucer in 1936. She decorated the teacup after a conversation with Pablo Picasso at a Parisian café during which Picasso commented on her fur-covered bracelet. She offhandedly said that you could cover any ordinary object with fur and turn it into a work of art, even the plain tea cup in front of her. After the rendezvous, she did just that. The work became a major hallmark of the surrealist movement, a movement defined by the unity of the conscious and unconscious worlds, where the sense of the rational world meets the irrationality of the dream world. Surrealism founder Andre Breton featured the piece in a surrealist exhibit of objects, where, according to NPR, it evoked a plethora of contradictory reactions:
“This being the age of Freud, a gastro-sexual interpretation was inescapable: the spoon was phallic, the cup vaginal, the hair pubic. For some, the tongue-shaped spoon brought to mind unpleasant sensations of a furry tongue. Others experienced unease at seeing a graceful item of the tea table transformed into something decadent and animalistic; some gagged at the thought of getting a hair or damp tea leaves in their mouth; still others wanted to stroke it.”
To some, covering an object associated with femininity with something as masculine as an animal pelt sexualized it. You can visit this teacup see if you agree at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
3) The Tea Cup
Jackson Pollack, 1946
When you think of Jackson Pollack, you probably think of his famous “drip” paintings, made by pouring paint on canvas. But after his drip period, Pollack launched into a figurative period during which he painted more recognizable people and shapes. The Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland debuted a show called “The Fugurative Pollack” last year that included this 1946 painting, “The Tea Cup.” Can you spot it?