James Tissot

Portsmouth Dockyard


Not on display

James Tissot 1836–1902
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 381 × 546 mm
frame: 556 × 716 × 75 mm
Bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole 1941

Display caption

This picture illustrates the traditional story of a man trying to choose between two women. The Highland Sergeant turns away from his rather sullen-looking companion and looks at the woman speaking to him, indicating that he has made his choice.This is a reworking of James Tissot’s painting The Thames which shocked audiences when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1876 because of the questionable sexual morals of its characters. This painting was exhibited as a corrective.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry

James Tissot 1836-1902

N05302 Portsmouth Dockyard c.1877

Inscribed 'J.J. Tissot' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 15 x 21 1/2 (38 x 54.5)
Bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole 1941
Prov: Henry Jump, Gateacre, Lancs.; James Jump, Ipswich; Capt. Henry Jump, Heytesbury; sold by him at Christie's, London, 26 April 1937, lot 44 as 'Divided Attention'; bt. Leicester Galleries, London, 58 gns.; Sir Hugh Walpole, London
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery, London, May-June 1877 (25) as 'Portsmouth Dockyard'; Victorian Life, Leicester Galleries, London, June-July 1937 (106, repr.) as 'Entre les Deux mon Coeur balance'; The Tate Gallery's Wartime Acquisitions, National Gallery, London, April-May 1942 (136) as 'How happy could he be with either'; A Selection from the Tate Gallery's Wartime Acquisitions, CEMA touring exhibition, September 1942-September 1943 (97); Marine Paintings, Arts Council touring exhibition, October 1965-April 1966 (39)
Lit: Sacheverell Sitwell, Narrative Pictures (London 1937), pp.92, 118, repr. pl.131
Repr: Apollo, XXVI, 1937, p.108

This picture was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 under the title 'Portsmouth Dockyard', as is proved by the descriptions of it in several of the reviews, e.g. 'the picture of Portsmouth Dockyard (25), in which a happy Highland sergeant finds himself to his huge content afloat in company with two sprightly ladies' (The Times, May 1877, p.10) and 'his Highland sergeant, nursing meditatively his knees in the boat which conveys him and two young girls and their parasols across the dock at Portsmouth (25)' (The Pictorial World, 12 May 1877, p.166).

Tissot made a drypoint after it in 1877 which he entitled 'Entre les Deux mon Coeur balance' (J.J. Tissot: Eaux-fortes, Manière Noire, Pointes Sèches, Paris 1886, No.26). The painting was previously catalogued under this title.

It was first identified as 'Portsmouth Dockyard' by Willard E. Misfeldt.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.723-4, reproduced p.723

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