The Old Tea Pot by Ella Hergesheimer

Jan 11, 2019 | art, tea in art


Ella Hergesheimer. The Old Tea Pot. The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Digital image courtesy of The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

On my trips to Spartanburg, South Carolina, I often enjoy stopping into the gallery of The Johnson Collection. This private collection, which generously shares its holdings with the public through rotating exhibits in numerous locales, features artwork chronicling the “evolution of the American South.”

On a recent visit to The Johnson Collection, I was thrilled to find Ella Hergesheimer’s painting, The Old Tea Pot, on display as part of the current exhibit entitled The Kindred Spirit: William Merritt Chase and His Southern Students. Because of my educational background in art history and my interest in tea, I am drawn to artworks which have ties to tea culture.

Hergesheimer (1873-1943) lived during a time which saw the development of the tea bag and the popularization of iced tea. But these icons of modern tea drinking in the South are nowhere to be seen in her formalist still life, The Old Tea Pot. In this painting, Hergesheimer presents a solid rendering of a scene which falls squarely within the traditional still life genre.  Her arrangement of objects which, along with a tea pot, includes apples and a peaked white cloth, brings to my mind the still life paintings of French artist, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), though I have no references noting that Hergesheimer had ever seen his work.

Paul Cezanne. Dish of Apples. c. 1876-77. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Digital image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art open access initiative.

Paul Cezanne. Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples. c. 1877. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Digital image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art open access initiative.

I am charmed by Hergesheimer’s painting, The Old Tea Pot, simply because the tea pot symbolizes what, in my mind, is an icon of culture, refinement, and relaxation.  The painting brings to mind quiet times spent conversing with friends over a pot of tea. In that regard I find it pleasing.