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Detail showing Queen Victoria drinking tea at a Buckingham Palace Garden party

Serving and sipping a favourite beverage

Marcellus Laroon the Younger (1679-1772)

A Musical Tea Party Signed and dated 1740

RCIN 403544

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By 1734, the merchant Thomas Twining (1675–1741) was importing more than 13,000 lb of tea per year from China and Japan. All tea sold at this date was highly taxed, costing 20-30 shillings per pound by 1728. As one observer wrote, 'everything of that kind grows very dear'. Tea was thus a highly luxurious item and the tea service became a highly-valued and often ornate phenomenon by association. This is reflected in the genre scenes of the period, which often show the tea service prominently displayed on the table – as in this painting. The work is a 'comedy of manners', with a group of guests – ranging from a fat vicar to a grim-looking thug – competing for the attention of their hostess.