Skip to main content

Look, think, do: White cup and saucer

Description of this object or artwork

This painting was selected by the Director of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Luke Syson, as a stimulus for The Great Big Art Exhibition hosted by Firstsite Gallery. Luke explains his choice below.

‘A white cup and saucer. What could be more ordinary? And a big part of the appeal of this picture is its simplicity. There are almost no extras to distract us. But it’s also a picture that speaks largely and complicatedly. Fantin-Latour implies that someone might pick up the teaspoon any minute. The cup and saucer are very slightly askew. So there’s an implied story here – one that we can invent. And somehow too the painter has made this the ultimate cup, the essence of what a cup and saucer should be. In the last months, the things we have around us at home have become more important. How might we depict them to celebrate their ordinariness and convey their new significance in our lives?’

Henri Fantin-Latour (who you can see a self-portrait of here in our collection) was a French artist best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of artists and writers in Paris. As a youth, he received drawing lessons from his father, who was also an artist, and in 1854 he went to study at the School of Fine Art (École des Beaux-Arts) in Paris. While there he spent most of his time copying the works of the Old Masters in the Louvre. It was here he met his wife and fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg (1840–1926).

Fantin-Latour befriended several young artists who would later be associated with Impressionism (which you can learn more about here), including James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) and Édouard Manet (1832–83). However Fantin-Latour's own work remained more traditional in style and he preferred to stick to detailed studies of people, flowers or objects like this one.

White Cup and Saucer Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) 1864 Oil on Canvas 19.4 x 28.9 cm no.1016


Look closely at this cup. Why do you think Fantin-Latour chose this cup rather than another? 

Do you have a favourite cup or object? What makes it special?  


What can you imagine drinking from this cup, and what would you eat with it?  

Would you share it with someone?

What conversations can you imagine hearing in the room while you eat and drink?  


Transform an everyday object into an artwork like Fantin-Latour. Follow these sugestions on how to repeat, rotate, and overlap your artwork to make them more abstract. You could use photography, collage, drawing or even paint. 

Why not enter your artwork in The Great Big Art Exhibition

Collections record

Collection record: 2658

Sign up to our emails

Be the first to hear about our news, exhibitions, events and more…

Sign up