A detail of a painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960 with a text overlay that reads Exceptional Works: David Hockney First Tea Painting, 1960 Oil on Canvas. 30x13 inches, 76.2 x 33 cm.
“It [First Tea Painting] was done at the Royal College of Art and painted on hessian—sacking stuff. I had just given up abstraction, thinking everything was an abstraction.

I used to go in at 8am. I had a packet of Typhoo tea and bought a small carton of milk at South Ken to make tea for myself. When people came round to talk and cadge cigarettes in the afternoon, I would go to the cinema and come back again at 6pm to work. That’s when Ridley Scott would come round to talk, looking for ideas.”

—David Hockney, September 27, 2022

A painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960.

David Hockney

First Tea Painting, 1960
Oil on canvas
30 x 13 inches (76.2 x 33 cm)
Framed: 32 1/8 x 15 1/4 inches (81.5 x 38.6 cm)

The gallery is delighted to present David Hockney’s First Tea Painting (1960), the first of three works based on Typhoo tea packets and created while Hockney was a student at the Royal College of Art in London. Featured in the landmark exhibition Young Contemporaries in 1961, this seminal early work signals Hockney’s return to figurative painting, and launched the decade in which the artist first achieved international renown.

David Hockney (b. 1937) is one of the most celebrated and popular artists of the twentieth century. Emerging in the 1960s and quickly establishing himself as a pivotal figure in the British pop art movement, he developed a signature style of figurative painting defined by the colors and visuals of Southern California, where his paintings of swimming pools and lovers garnered particular acclaim. The subject of major exhibitions around the world, Hockney’s work continues to shape the course of contemporary art internationally.

A photograph of David Hockney in his studio at The Royal College of Art in London, dated early 1960s

David Hockney in his studio at The Royal College of Art, London, early 1960s

David Hockney in his studio at The Royal College of Art, London, early 1960s

“Before the end of the autumn term Hockney painted his first picture of a packet of tea…. The little oil painting shows the front of the tea packet in the top half; a large red heart bearing the letter ‘L’ dominates the lower half, which is otherwise bare canvas and paint scratches, showing the recent influences of both Bacon and Dubuffet. He would return to this subject the following term.” 

—Peter Webb, art historian

A detail of a painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960.

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

A detail of a painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960.

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

First Tea Painting is the first of three works featuring Typhoo tea packets that Hockney made between 1960 and 1961 while studying at the Royal College of Art. In these works, Hockney synthesized elements from his earlier abstract style with a distinctive pop sensibility. A black and red tea packet is depicted in the center while a crimson heart (a recurring motif for Hockney) and the letter “L” float in the lower corner. Text—such as the Typhoo label, phrases like “queen” and “jump,” and the lines from Walt Whitman poems in Hockney’s well-known Love paintings (1960–1961)—first appears in his works from this time. 

Typhoo Tea packet from the 1960s

Typhoo Tea packet, 1960s

Typhoo Tea packet, 1960s

“The tea packets piled up with the cans and tubes of paint … in a way it’s like still-life paintings for me … There was a packet of Typhoo tea, a very ordinary popular brand of tea, so I used it as a motif…. This is as close to pop art as I ever came.”

—David Hockney

A painting by Francis Bacon titled Seated Figure, dated 1960

Francis Bacon, Seated Figure, 1960

Francis Bacon, Seated Figure, 1960

The tea paintings signal Hockney’s return to figurative painting after a period in which he worked in an abstract expressionist style characterized by splashes and drips of paint, a somber palette, and the inclusion of handwritten phrases. 

The influence of Francis Bacon—who taught at the Royal College of Art and whose solo exhibition Hockney had just seen at Marlborough Gallery—is clear in Hockney’s handling of paint, the architecturally ambiguous space, and the area of bare canvas. The flatness of both the composition and the paint in First Tea Painting have remained characteristic of Hockney’s work throughout his career.

A painting by David Hockney, titled The Second Tea Painting, dated 1961 (left); Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style, 1961 (right).

David Hockney, The Second Tea Painting, 1961 (left); Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style, 1961 (right). Tate Collection, London

David Hockney, The Second Tea Painting, 1961 (left); Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style, 1961 (right). Tate Collection, London

David Hockney drinking tea in his studio in Los Angeles, circa 1960s

David Hockney drinking tea in his studio, Los Angeles, 1960s

David Hockney drinking tea in his studio, Los Angeles, 1960s

In 1961, First Tea Painting was included in the seminal exhibition Young Contemporaries at the Royal College of Art in London, along with The Second Tea Painting (1961). The presentation, which also featured work by artists such as Derek Boshier, Allen Jones, R. B. Kitaj, and Peter Phillips, is regarded as the very first exhibition of British pop art. As Bosier recalled, “We were interested in the world we lived in, in sex and music and culture and advertising … and got into pop art.… Hockney [did] a series of three ‘Tea’ paintings.” The third painting in this limited series, Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style (1961; also known as The Third Tea Painting), is now in the collection of the Tate, United Kingdom.

An undated photo of Derek Boshier and David Hockney

Derek Boshier and David Hockney, n.d.

Derek Boshier and David Hockney, n.d.

A detail of a painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960.

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

Installation view of David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, dated 1970

Installation view, David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970

Installation view, David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970

First Tea Painting … was one of Hockney’s first tentative steps back into a fully representational idiom…. One senses a lingering Modernist prejudice about the act of depicting a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface, a fear that the result will be a mere illustration. Hockney thus depicts only one side of the tea packet, reassembling a flat printed surface onto a flat painted surface, and taking care to leave ample evidence of the trail of the brush across the canvas. The rectangle of the tea packet, however, floats well within the boundaries of the canvas, creating a surface design which is essentially of the same nature as that of his abstract pictures from the beginning of the year.” 

—Marco Livingstone, art historian and curator

David Hockney at the opening of the exhibition David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, at Whitechapel Gallery in London, dated 1970

David Hockney at the opening of David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970

David Hockney at the opening of David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970

A spread from David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, dated 1970

A spread from David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970 (catalog)

A spread from David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960–1970, Whitechapel Gallery, London,1970 (catalog)

A spread from David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, dated 1970

A spread from David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1970 (catalog)

A spread from David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1970 (catalog)

“People began to beat a path to the Royal College painting studios. ‘They used to come in and wander round,’ Hockney remembers. One person who stopped by was the photographer Cecil Beaton. ‘When I went to the college…’ he [Beaton] wrote in his diary, ‘David and his friends were referred to by the professors as “the naughty boys upstairs.” I visited them up there and found David at work on a Typhoo Tea fantasy.’” 

—Christopher Simon Sykes, writer and photographer

An exhibition pamphlet for Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a New Figuration, 1947–63, Kunstverein Hamburg,1976

Exhibition pamphlet for Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a New Figuration, 1947–63, Kunstverein Hamburg,1976

Exhibition pamphlet for Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a New Figuration, 1947–63, Kunstverein Hamburg,1976

A detail of a painting by David Hockney, titled First Tea Painting, dated 1960.

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

David Hockney, First Tea Painting,1960 (detail)

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