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Smashed in the Cellar

Over the past year we have been working with Freelance Curator Vicky Dawson to develop an exhibition inspired by a a remarkable collection of pottery that was excavated from the museum garden in the 1990s. The show features a wonderfully evocative oil painting, The Tea Party, by the artist Richard Collins (d1732).  As Vicky explains, the work conjures up the family that might have chosen, bought and used many of the pots on display in the show:

Richard Collins was trained by the London based Swedish painter Michael Dahl and worked as a topographical draftsman and portrait painter in the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire areas. The painting is on loan from The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London.  It has been made possible through the enthusiasm of members of the local community who volunteered to be gallery stewards for the duration of the show.

Family portraits and paintings of friendship groups were popular in the 18th Century and were known as ‘conversation pieces’.  Wealthy families would commission such works to show to friends and visitors. Jewellery, expensive possessions and the finest clothes were displayed to indicate their social status, importance and wealth.

In this painting, a young and fashionable, but sadly unidentified family sits around a tea table, showing off their trendy and valuable silver and porcelain, and demonstrating their knowledge of the proper manner of taking tea. The lady of the house takes centre stage in the ritual, even in a family setting.  The tea set is typical of the early part of the 18th Century. There is a sugar dish, tea canister, sugar tongs, a jug for hot water, teaspoons in a spoon boat, a slop bowl and a teapot with a lamp beneath it to keep the tea warm. The porcelain tea bowls were imported from China and lack the handles seen on modern day tea cups. There are several examples of such cups in the show at the museum.

There is another conversation piece of the same family and their little dog called ‘A Family of Three at Tea’ dated 1727, that is displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum 

The show is open from 16 February to 11 April, and was made possible through grant aid from Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.



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