The Walker Art Gallery has acquired a striking watercolour study of 19th century emigration by the French artist, James Tissot with help from the Art Fund, the UKs national fundraising charity for works of art.
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 Gallerys 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 Liverpools 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 Liverpools industrial landscape. Were really pleased that it will now go on public display, so people can admire this vivid scene from Liverpools past.
The watercolour gives us some insight into Tissots 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 Gallerys 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 Gills 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 gallerys 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.