Portsmouth Dockyard by James Tissot (1836-1902). c.1877. Oil on Canvas. Support: 381 x 546 mm; frame: 556 x 716 x 75 mm. Collection: Tate Gallery, London. Ref. no. N05302; bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole in 1941, and kindly made available under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) licence. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Here is a stalwart Highlander, dashing in his red jacket, plumed busby and kilt, paying attention to one woman companion, while another looks away disconsolately. They are being rowed out towards the great looming ships in the naval dockyard. As usual, there seems to be a story here, but Tissot leaves us to guess what it might be. According to the Tate's gallery label of July 2006, it 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." Still, it suggests flirtation and possibly heartbreak, a situation that has arisen in the absence of a chaperone — which itself represents a flouting of Victorian convention. Tissot made an etching of the scene later, and gave away a little more of his intention: he entitled the etching in French, "Éntre les deux mon couer balance" ("James Jacques Joseph Tissot"), meaning literally, "between the two my heart is balanced." That confirms the tension here (the women with the tartan wrap might possibly have been his sister, after all). What will happen? Apparently, the Highlander is about to embark on his tour of duty; he might not even return.... — Jacqueline Banerjee


Gallery label, Tate, July 2007. "James Tissot: Portsmouth Dockyard." Tate. Web. 20 January 2018.

"James Jacques Joseph Tissot." Sotheby's. Web. 20 January 2018.

Created 20 January 2018