The Story of Tea-Drinking & Teapots

Three-Legged Teapot (<em>théière à trois pieds</em>)

Three-Legged Teapot (théière à trois pieds), ca. 1750–51, slide 4

The French drank tea for both “pleasure and its medicinal properties.” They drank their tea “in bedrooms, boudoirs, salons, gardens, and in the bath” (Savill 1988, 2:492).

The rise of the teapot and teacup in eighteenth-century France echoed the rise of the porcelain factories. Earlier in the century, before the emergence of porcelain hubs such as Meissen and Chantilly, tea had been served in Chinese porcelain tea bowls. That changed as porcelain makers began to imitate Chinese teapots.

Teapot (<em>théière lizonnée à relief</em>) and Cup (<em>gobelet lizonné à relief sans soucoupe</em>)

Teapot (théière lizonnée à relief) and Cup (gobelet lizonné à relief sans soucoupe), 1758, slide 23b

Many of these teapots were quite small. This was due to the custom of using the teapot to brew a small, very concentrated amount of tea in a small pot, and then to dilute it with hot water just before drinking.

The teapot and teacup known as lizonné had an octagonal lobed form, as articulated by the gilt dentil rims of the “Teapot” (théière lizonnée à relief) and the “Cup” (gobelet lizonné à relief) (1758, slide 23b). This shape was first produced in 1752 (Dawson 1994, 71). Both pieces are molded in relief with prunus blossoms and painted in monochrome blue (camaïeu bleu). Dawson notes that the prunus decoration “is based on Chinese eighteenth-century porcelain from Fukien province” (1994, 85).

Teapot in the Queen's Style (<em>théière à la Reine</em>)

Teapot in the Queen’s Style (théière à la Reine), ca. 1753, slide 13. Read more about the lapis blue ground color (bleu lapis) of this teapot here.

The Vincennes Porcelain Manufactory produced 24 different models of teapots. In the image to the right is a style of conical teapot called a théière à la Reine (teapot in the Queen’s style), whose earliest designs, inscribed by Jean-Claude Duplessis (artistic director at Sèvres), date to about 1753. It was alternatively called théière à Cuuyë; Eriksen and De Bellaigue note that “two different names for a single shape is a not uncommon occurrence” (1987, 269).

References: Arend 1998, 73; Savill 1988, 2:489–92; Eriksen and De Bellaigue 1987, 269; Dawson 1994, 71, 85.

Read the story of a few other teapot and teacup styles at the links below: