How did an ancient Asian tradition become something quintessentially British? The fashion for Tea drinking in Great Britain started at court in the later seventeenth century and spread among the aristocracy. Tea remained a heavily taxed luxury until a century later, 1n 1784, when tea duties were slashed from 119 to 12.5 percent, making it affordable to the general public.
In the eighteenth century, the rise of the East India Company — founded to trade with India, Southeast Asia, and China — led to a British monopoly on tea distribution. This global grip established the nation’s mercantile empire, critically dependent on colonial occupation and the movement of slaves. In 1771, American colonists famously protested Britain’s commercial control, dumping imported tea into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party.
Ambitious British pottery manufacturers and retailers leveraged tea’s popularity to their advantage, cultivating an enormous national ceramics industry. Vastly expanded production yielded new wares, materials and consumers. Profit margins on ceramics were slim, so quality mattered, as did efficiency. Resources and skills were often shared, as innovative makers sprung up and sometimes quickly failed. These developments signaled a shift — creative and economic — toward mass manufacture in a remarkably nimble market, generating a booming export industry for Britain as a result
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Chinese fretwork first appeared in Britain in the early eighteenth century on garden fences, but it was not until midcentury that the vogue for fretwork on furniture erupted.
Here, the three-dimensional angular pattern seems to float in midair to support a small, six-sided tray. The exact design for these candelstands comes from the first edition (1754) of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentlemen and Cabinet-Maker’s Director.
This Pair of Mahogany Candlestands (Circa 1755 – 60) Was Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
A member of a wealthy banking family and sophisticated patron of the arts, Thomas Hope (1739 – 1861) set out to influence and improve contemporary taste through the publication of his own collection in Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807).
Following interest in ancient Rome and Greece, attention turned to Egypt as a major source of inspiration for furniture and interior design. This ‘Egyptian” bench shows influence of Hope’s archeological taste and may have been part of the furnishings of his country house The Deepdene, Dorking, Surrey (outside London). It was possibly sold in the Christie’s sale of the Hope heirlooms held at Deepdene over six consecutive days in September of 1917. Lot 1044, sold on September 17th, consisted of: “a carved 4ft. 4in. gilt Egyptian pattern settee with scroll ends, on claw feet, and squab seat upholstered in gold satin damask.”
While several surviving pieces of furniture can be attached to the detailed line drawings, Hope never remarked on the fabrics to be used. The present wool covers are based on fiber fragments from this bench and on original textile remains from a settee also designed by Hope, which is now at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.