High Tea

Apr 9 2011 – Jun 17 2011

Susannah Bridges, Formal Occasion (Detail) 2003 - 04. Collection of  The Dowse Art Museum.

In April, The Dowse too celebrates the rituals and etiquette of afternoon tea. Opening on the 9th of April, High Tea is a charming exhibition of domestic ware from The Dowse collection that features dainty tea cups, quirky teapots and delicate doilies, as well as a fragile flour sift and icing syringe.

High Tea includes works by New Zealanders Trudie Kroef, Penny Walker, Ann Verdcourt, Emily Siddell, Debbie Pointon as well as internationally renowned English potter, Dame Lucie Rie. Auckland based artist and designer, Susannah Bridges takes a sculptural approach to special objects—her ceramic doilies, Formal Occasion, are the centrepiece of the exhibition. High Tea reflects the diversity of The Dowse’s ceramics collection as well as noting the history and traditions of tea.

Anna Stanhope (1783–1857), the seventh Duchess of Bedford and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea. Every afternoon at around 4pm, she suffered a ‘sinking feeling’ during which time her servants would sneak her a pot of tea and few pieces of bread. The habit soon became a social occasion with invited guests joining the Duchess for an elegant afternoon meal between 3 and 5pm. The tea was served in dainty cups at a low tea table and the event was often referred to as ‘low tea’—not to be confused with what was then termed ‘high tea’ (at a high dining table), a tradition of the working classes during the Industrial Revolution, working class families would return home in the evening tired and hungry to a meal of hot meat, hefty sandwiches and cakes, scones—and tea. While there were no dainty finger sandwiches associated with the ‘high tea’ we know today, the meal was eaten at a high dining table, rather than low tea tables, and became know as ‘high tea’.

In association with High Tea, The Dowse will also host a tea tasting session on Saturday 30 April with Shane Dickson from Dilmah NZ.

The Dowse Art Museum began acquiring ceramics in the early 1970s and its collection is now one of the most significant in New Zealand.