Mary Cassatt was anAmerican painter and printmaker who was part of the group of Impressionists working in and around Paris. She is best known for imagery drawn from the private sphere of women—sedate moments in the daily lives of privileged individuals as they read, take tea, attend the opera, or care for their young children.
Taking afternoon tea was a social ritual for many upper-middle-class women. Committed to portraying the ordinary events of everyday life, Cassatt made that ritual the subject of a series of works painted around 1880, when she had been living abroad for the better part of a decade. Her painting The Cup of Tea which is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was painted in Paris around 1880 to 1881. Her model for the painting was her sister, Lydia, who was a model in many of her paintings. Lydia was a big part of Mary’s life and neither of them deciding to marry, they lived together in France until Lydia’s death in 1882.
The painting represented a social custom that Cassatt revisited many times in her paintings: the taking of a cup of tea. The painting depicts a young woman dressed in an elaborate pink and white gown sitting comfortably in a large dark blue armchair and holding a cup of tea in her hand. Cassatt’s choice of subject for this work is notable because she would have seen scenes like this every day during her life as an upper-middle-class woman.