James Tissot

The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)


Not on display

James Tissot 1836–1902
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 686 × 918 mm
frame: 866 × 1095 × 108 mm
Presented by Samuel Courtauld 1936

Display caption

Tissot often painted a man with two women in order to explore the subtle nuances of flirtation and attraction through body language and facial expression. Here a chaperone separates the young naval officer from the object of his attentions, the woman hiding her enjoyment of his flirtation behind her fan. Tissot focuses here on the boundaries of Victorian propriety and social convention, and their transgression. The languid pose of the nearest woman, and Tissot’s frank concentration on her fashionable hour-glass figure, inevitably led to the picture being criticised when it was first exhibited. The author Henry James dismissed it as ‘hard, vulgar and banal’.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

James Tissot 1836-1902

N04847 The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth) c.1876

Inscribed 'J.J. Tissot' b.l.
Oil on canvas, 27 x 36 1/8 (68.5 x 92)
Presented by Samuel Courtauld 1936
Prov: J. Robertson Reid; Henry Trengrouse, Teddington; sold by his Executors, Puttick and Simpson sale, London, 27 February 1929, lot 107; bt. Leicester Galleries, London, 16 gns.; Samuel Courtauld, London
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery, London, May-June 1877 (19) as 'The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)', lent by J. Robertson Reid; Fine Art Loan Exhibition, City Art Gallery, Glasgow, May 1878 (243); 'In the Seventies': Paintings by James Tissot, Leicester Galleries, London, June 1933 (7, repr.) as 'Officer and Ladies on Board HMS "Calcutta"'; Loan Exhibition of English and French Paintings and Drawings, Silver End, Essex, March-April 1935 (84), lent by Samuel Courtauld; James Tissot (1836-1902), Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, May-June 1955 (31, repr. pl.IV); James Tissot, 1836-1902, Arts Council touring exhibition, July-November 1955 (23); 19th Century French Pictures, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, April-June 1960 (49)
Lit: James Laver, Vulgar Society (London 1936), p.37, repr. pl.16; Douglas Cooper, The Courtauld Collection (London 1954), No.77, p.120; Exhibition: The Memoirs of Oliver Brown (London 1968), p.117, repr. pl.9b
Repr: The Graphic, XVI, 18 August 1877, supplement between pp.150-1; Apollo, XXV, 1937, p.80 in colour

The original title is 'The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)', but this picture has also been known as 'Officer and Ladies on Board HMS Calcutta'. Tissot made a drypoint after it in 1876 to which he gave the sub-title 'Memory of a Ball on Board' (J.J. Tissot: Eaux-fortes, Manière Noire, Pointes Sèches, Paris 1886, No.19 as 'La Galerie du "Calcutta" (Souvenir d'un bal à bord)').

At this period the two hulks Calcutta and Excellent moored in Portsmouth dockyard were used as the navy's gunnery school for training officers. After two years of preliminary instruction at Dartmouth, the young acting sublieutenants were posted to Portsmouth and had to take this course as one of the qualifications for a lieutenant's commission.

The Calcutta was a teak-built two-decker ship-of-the-line. In this picture the sublieutenant and the two lady visitors are standing in her stern gallery and are evidently looking across to the Excellent, which was moored close astern and joined to the Calcutta by a footbridge. (See Admiral G.A. Ballard, 'Victorian Hulks under the White Ensign' in The Mariner's Mirror, XXXI, 1945, pp.24-9; the compiler is grateful to Captain A.J. Pack, RN (Retd.) for drawing his attention to this).

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.721-2, reproduced p.721

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