Recently, seven paintings were stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, including works by Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954), and Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903). Among other things these masters shared, all produced tea-themed pieces during their lifetimes.
A hue of realism titivates Monet’s 1872 impressionist painting The Tea Set, in which the plain tablecloth, strategically positioned, accentuates the elegant porcelain tea set, and the beverage-filled cup summons thoughts and visions of an idyllic afternoon. Interestingly, the thriving begonia plant is featured without any blossoms, while the tray has a ruddy, lacquered surface, capturing the delicate reflection of the tea set.
Unlike paintings such as Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat or Édouard Manet’s Olympia, The Tea Set is noncontroversial. Intelligibility may be another characteristic of the still life genre. Having read a 20-page dissertation on the topic, I would venture to say that Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas is the greatest painting ever created. Appreciating The Tea Set, on the other hand, requires no defense, no justification.
Simply picture the different shades of green in Matisse’s palette while working on his 1919 painting, Tea in the Garden! Even the chairs are green! A party at a tea estate perhaps? Matisse’s garden provides the setting and the eye-catching object on the table is indeed a samovar. This artwork’s first owners, also the intended recipients, were Michael and Sarah Stein, the brother and sister-in-law of Gertrude Stein.
Gauguin’s Still Life with Teapot and Fruits, completed in 1896 during his extended stay in Tahiti, employs the cloisonnist techniques. From this painting, one envisions tea drinking to be more for sustainability than relaxation.
So what are the motives behind high-profile heists? Could they really be as depicted in the delectable movie, How to Steal a Million?! Hard to believe, but I have also been a victim, more than once actually. In 2006, I was in Rio de Janeiro and was hoping a visit to Museu da Chácara do Céu would lessen my disappointment of not being able to enter Museu Villa Lobos, which was closed during Carnival. Museu da Chácara do Céu had to shut its doors as well, not because of the festivity, but because of yet another heist. My “victim” status will not change until Vermeer’s painting The Concert is recovered and I complete my journey of examining up close all the works of my very favorite artist.