Henry Sargent. The Tea Party, c. 1824. o/c: 64 3/8 x 52 3/8 in. mfa Boston.
The casual deportment of mixed company in The Tea Party makes this composition an appropriate pendant to the more formal arrangement of The Dinner Party. Like The Dinner Party, The Tea Party may represent Sargent’s own home in the Tontine Crescent, a row of handsome Boston townhouses (no longer extant) designed and built by Charles Bulfinch in 1793–94. One contemporary critic noted: “The rooms and furniture [are] delightfully painted, and with the most minute fidelity.” This is an upper-class interior, with two richly appointed parlors filled with fashionably attired figures. The women wear stylish Empire gowns in colors suitable for daytime; white garments were reserved for evening, as they were difficult to keep pristine. The furnishings reflect the latest styles recommended by such tastemakers as English designer Thomas Sheraton, who advised that the drawing room was to include the finest furniture and decorations in the house. Sargent carefully delineated the French-styled Empire armchairs and a marble-topped center table toward the middle of the first parlor; the table may be one that descended in the Sargent family and is now in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. Other imported and domestic goods are displayed around the two rooms, including an alabaster vase on a stand in the corner at the left, mirrors that help to reflect the warm artificial light in both spaces, and vases and urns on the mantelpiece. The walls of the room are lined with paintings—likely some landscapes, a subject that Americans were just beginning to collect.