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This group portrait of an unidentified family and their servants was probably painted soon after Van Aken moved from his native Antwerp to London. Tea was an expensive commodity, as were all the items related to its consumption: the tea table, silver, and porcelain. The tea box is shown in the foreground. Its contents were normally kept locked by the lady of the household, who is shown dispensing the precious leaves from a container.

Demonstrating wealth, domesticity and genteel informality, tea-drinking came to epitomise civilised behaviour in the eighteenth century.

August 2004