The gallery at the National Conservation Centre closed at the end of 2010 but the great conservation work continues and earlier this week they took delivery of this delightful watercolour sketch by James Tissot. After being cleaned up, remounted and framed it will hang in the Walker probably later this year.
Goodbye on the Mersey is a detailed observation of a middle class family saying goodbye to relatives bound for America on an imposing transatlantic liner. It was bought at auction with help from a 100% grant from the Art Fund, totalling at £58,850.
In the foreground on the left two women dressed in exquisitely pleated grey coats point out their relatives to an elderly lady. On the right an older gentleman and a little girl wave enthusiastically at the ship.
The grey light suggests that the time of day is sunrise, when large ships left the port to catch the tide. The vantage point is the deck of a tender or ferry, behind the central figures, making the viewer feel close to the action. From this unusual composition the 1880 Liverpool skyline is also captured beyond the powerful looking liner.
Curator of British art, Dr Laura MacCulloch said: “This is a very significant addition to the Walker Art Gallery’s world-class collection. We are grateful to the Art Fund for enabling us to bring the painting to a public collection.
“Tissot is an important artist from the Victorian period. He specialised in scenes of high society and modern life. His work reveals not only the social habits of the Victorian upper and middle classes but also underlying themes of romance and morals. We hope this particular work will be especially popular with our local audience who will appreciate this snapshot of Liverpool’s history.”
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “This compelling study is full of life and movement – Tissot has really captured the sense of a fleeting moment in time, and the emotions caught up in a significant departure. His arresting composition beautifully evokes the majesty of Liverpool’s industrial landscape. We’re really pleased that it will now go on public display, so people can admire this vivid scene from Liverpool’s past.”
The watercolour gives us some insight into Tissot’s working methods. Close inspection of the work reveals it sits on a grid of white chalk lines with corresponding red chalk numbers for reproducing the work on a larger scale in oil.
Tissot used this grid method to produce not only preparatory studies but also replicas of his most popular paintings which brought him great commercial success.
There are two known oil versions of the painting, one of which is in the Andrew Lloyd Webber collection.
Goodbye on the Mersey joins another painting by the artist in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection. Commissioned by Chapple Gill, a senior partner in a Liverpool firm of cotton brokers, Portrait of Mrs Catherine Smith Gill and two of her children is a tender image of Gill’s family in their house, Lower Lee in Woolton, Liverpool.
The painting was also purchased for the gallery with the assistance of the Art Fund in 1979 and has become a firm favourite with the gallery’s family audience and school visits. It also features in an interactive virtual gallery: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/talkingheads
A Visit to the Yacht by Tissot is on long-term loan at the Lady Lever Art Gallery