The Cup of Tea

Artist: Mary Cassatt (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1844–1926 Le Mesnil-Théribus, Oise)

Date: ca. 1880–81

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 36 3/8 x 25 3/4 in. (92.4 x 65.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, 1922

Accession Number: 22.16.17


This picture represents Cassatt's sister, Lydia Simpson Cassatt (1837–1882), although, as the title suggests, it is less a specific portrait than a representation of a popular social ritual—one of the activities of contemporary life that became the mainstay of Cassatt's Impressionist imagery. Painted in the artist's early Impressionist manner, it is a fine example of her skill as a colorist. Great attention has been devoted to the effects of reflected color, for example, the luminous quality of the pink dress is reinforced by pink on the arm of the chair, the underside of the saucer, the white glove, and the woman's face. Through the sketchlike green background, unprimed canvas is visible in peripheral areas. While the use of the canvas as part of the composition contributes to the spontaneity of the image, it was criticized by the establishment, who thought this avant-garde innovation evidenced lack of finish.

This work may have been included in the 1879 French Impressionist exhibition in Paris. It clearly was in the exhibition staged by the same group in 1881, along with another image of Cassatt's sister titled Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly, also in the Museum's collection.