We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

🛈 Find out what you need to know before visiting

Title

Tea cup ballet

circa 1935

Artist

Olive Cotton

Australia

11 Jul 1911 – 27 Sep 2003

  • Details

    Date
    circa 1935
    Media category
    Photograph
    Materials used
    gelatin silver photograph
    Dimensions
    37.3 x 29.6 cm image; 38.0 x 30.2 cm sheet
    Signature & date

    Signed l.r. sheet., pencil "Olive Cotton". Not dated.

    Credit
    Gift of the artist 1980
    Location
    20th-century galleries (ground floor)
    Accession number
    218.1980
    Copyright

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Olive Cotton

    Works in the collection

    24

    Share
  • About

    'This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

    When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

    This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.' Olive Cotton 1995 1

    Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. ‘Tea cup ballet’ is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

    1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p 25

    © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 11 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 12 publications

Other works by Olive Cotton

See all 24 works