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Exhibition is the first of its kind to examine tea's influence on art and culture around the globe
Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory (French, founded 1756), Tea Service, part of the Cabaret Bonaparte, 1812. Gilt and enameled porcelain. The Twinight Collection (New York).

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA..- People around the world have been drinking tea for centuries. The beverage became the center of cultured social gatherings long ago, not to mention an industry influencing health and welfare. The role played by tea, especially in the upper echelons of society, has also had a profound influence on art as artists and connoisseurs devoted themselves to the creation and selection of art in the service of tea. The Norton Museum of Art exhibition, High Tea: Glorious Manifestations East and West, is the first to examine this influence globally, focusing on eight key cultures – China, Korea, Japan, England, Germany, France, Russia, and America. The exhibition, organized by Laurie Barnes, Elizabeth B. McGraw Curator of Chinese Art, is on view at the Norton Museum of Art from Thursday, Feb. 19 through Sunday, May 24, 2015.

Spanning 1,200 years from the 700s to the 1900s, the 182 objects in High Tea are drawn from numerous museums and private collections around the world and include ceramics, metalwork, paintings, fashion, furniture, lacquer, and glass. Fabulous tea-related works, from paintings depicting tea parties to clothing worn at tea time, created by notable artists, artisans, and designers such as Mary Cassatt, Paul Revere, Christopher Dresser, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, and Charles Frederick Worth are highlighted in High Tea. Ornate tea sets, pots, urns, cups, and saucers by esteemed design houses such as Fabergé, Meissen, Gorham, the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, and others are also featured in this unique exhibition.

“In bringing together so many different items from so many cultures, it is truly stunning to see the international impact that a drink has had on just about every aspect of art and culture,” says exhibition organizer Laurie Barnes. “The exhibition shows that tea has not only been a soothing beverage for centuries, but an important, if unheralded, inspiration to the arts.”

High Tea is divided into geographic sections pinpointing key historical and artistic events, with objects in the exhibition illustrating important milestones in each culture as well as major cross-cultural interactions. In China, Korea, and Japan, for example, the practice of drinking tea spread from Buddhist temples to the secular upper class. Initially, emperors, kings, and nobles prepared and drank tea in the same manner as monks. Over time, elements such as entertainment were introduced. A Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, married King Charles II in the 1660s and introduced the beverage to England. It caught on with the public thanks to the British East India Company and entrepreneurs like Thomas Twining, whose tea shop catered to women consumers, and later, Thomas Lipton, who catered to the middle class.

In every tea culture, what began as a religious or aristocratic ritual spread far beyond those origins, adopted and embraced by the greater community in each country. High Tea illustrates not only how drinking this beverage became a global tradition, but also dramatically influenced art and culture.

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