The Hepworth Wakefield : James Tissot: Painting the Victorian Woman

Approaching The Hepworth

Approaching The Hepworth over The Aire and Calder Navigation

It was a miserable, grey, wet day last Wednesday and after my usual Nordic Walking session I decided to take a trip to Wakefield and revisit The Hepworth. Back in March I clipped a review of the Tissot exhibition from the Weekend Financial Times, Visual Arts section. Reading the review and knowing Tissot to be a Victorian artist I was intrigued that he should be showing at such a modern and avant-garde gallery as The Hepworth. The answer, as I found out upon enquiry to a steward, is simply that the Wakefield City Art Collection is also housed at The Hepworth and this show is based around pictures in the collection.

From the Tissot Exhibition webpage:

On The Thames

On The Thames (1876)

Taking the much cherished painting On the Thames, 1876, from our collection as a starting point, this new collection display explores the representation of women in the work of French born artist, James Tissot (1836-1902).

The display will also feature loans from Tate and several regional art galleries, and will discuss the portrayal of Victorian femininity in relation to Tissot’s life-history and the contrasting roles of women in the region’s coal industry.”

Subtitled “How happy I could be with either” the painting caused a scandal when it was exhibited at The Royal Academy.

Other paintings in this small single room show include:

Portsmouth Dockyard

Portsmouth Dockyard (1877) [Tate]

PD 1877

Portsmouth Dockyard notes

HMS Calcutta

The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth) (1876) [Tate]

GHC 1877

The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth) notes

The exhibition looks at the representation of women in Victorian England through two contrasting sets of images: the fashionable women of James Tissot’s society paintings (above) and photographs of female workers in northern coalfields (not so easy to photograph in the display cases). Costume was a key element in Tissot’s work. He was born in the French port of Nantes where both his parents worked in the fashion and textile industry.

The painting “On the Thames” was originally owned by Kaye Knowles whose wealth came from his family’s Lancashire based colliery business. The Lancashire “pit brow lass” was mostly associated with the Wigan coalfields where women worked at the pit head. Their costume was also central to the pictures since there are wearing trousers which in Victorian times were perceived as a threat  to the moral and social order.

I see from the press that another exhibition featuring James Abbot McNeil Whistler’s London and the River Thames has just opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. I wonder whether I shall manage to get to see it before it closes on January 12th 2014?


Wapping (1860) [National Gallery of Art, Washington]


6 comments on “The Hepworth Wakefield : James Tissot: Painting the Victorian Woman

  1. Nilly says:

    Thank you for reminding me that the Hepworth is well worth a visit – we’ll definitely put this on our must-do list. I’m not sure if it is just me, but I feel that Leeds and Bradford galleries don’t have interesting exhibitions as often as they used to.

    • I’m not keen on/don’t understand modern art but the Hepworth is well worth a visit. It is very well done. Oh, we are always saying there should be more significant touring exhibitions in Leeds and Bradford. Of course, Cartwright Hall used to be a wonderful venue and we loved the Bradford Print Biennale in the 1970s/’80s. Such a shame.

  2. sherry says:

    Two wonderful exhibitions! I so hope you can get to the Whistler one so I can hear about it.
    Thank you, i enjoyed the vicarious visit to Tissot.

  3. Fran says:

    What a fascinating exhibition. The contrast between Tissot with his love of well dressed ladies and the female coal workers certainly would get one thinking.

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