Tea chest

DATE: early 19th Century (made)
PLACE: China (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Carved ivory, pewter

In the 18th and 19th centuries, tea chests and caddies were often made from costly materials and elaborately decorated, as they were placed on the tea table and would be seen by guests. This tea chest was made in Canton and is composed of five large rectangular ivory panels, each carved in crisp relief with figures in a landscape of trees, merchant boats and pavilions. Carved ivory was in high demand in the West and was often used to create objects such as fans, inkwells, card cases and jewellery boxes. The picturesque scenes would have greatly appealed to contemporary Western taste. The interior of this tea chest is fitted with two rectangular pewter tea canisters engraved with landscapes and scrolling foliage, which would have been used to store two different types of tea leaves.