In the center of the composition, four
children surround a small table set for afternoon tea. The oldest child
pours tea from the teapot into one of four cups. The milk pitcher rests
on the floor next to her, as does a plate with cakes. The three younger
children sit enraptured, concentrating on the actions of the older girl.
Behind the children, a larger round table
is also set for teagrownup tea. The silver or pewter teapot rests
alongside a sugar bowl on a tray. Bread and butter complete the set-up.
In the shadowed corner, an older person placidly
sits drinking her tea. She wears a bonnet and shawl, and a lap rug is
draped over her knees. She is looking down, not engaging the viewer.
The right hand portion of the painting is
filled with a large curtained window. The heavy draperies are pulled back,
allowing natural light to enter the dim room. Half curtains of netting
rest peacefully on the windowsill.
The remaining contents of the sparsely decorated
room surround the children. A badminton racket and birdie, a wagon with
some toys, and a tossed hat are on the floor in the lower front. The background
hearth frames the oldest child. A green mantle-scarf balances the horizontal
lines of the tables and children. A scarf-draped chair rests in the left-hand
corner, balancing the older woman, and together they frame the children
in the foreground.
This painting is filled with ambiguities,
and is meant to indicate a 19th century middle class version of the idea
of poverty. In a large, sparsely furnished and dimly lit 'rustic interior,'
the clean and well dressed children affect adult behavior by having their
tea poured by a surrogate "mum," the oldest child. The little table is
clothed and the teacups and saucers are part of a set. The inclusion of
a luxury item, cakes, with their tea also indicates a bit of extra money,
as does the childrenŐs toys.
The adult table is set with a metallic tea
service, complete with a sugar bowl, sugar being an expensive item as
well. A spacious room, mantelpiece decorations and a lace curtain also
indicate an element of middle class prosperity. The rug on the bare floor
separates the children from the roughness of their sparse life as well
as the wood.
think one of the chief delights was the white dimity curtains in the
bedrooms, they in their first freshness always contained a good deal
of the essence of the first evening in the country, when we children
roamed from room to room... and then out again to the garden wild with
happiness and resting in the knowledge that it was to last a whole summer.
Moberly, 1852 (Dulce Domum, 1911)