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1836 – 1902

On the Thames (or How Happy I Could Be with Either)
c. 1876
Oil on canvas
74.8 x 118 cm
Purchased 1938. Photography Jerry Hardman-Jones


When first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876, this work by the French painter Tissot attracted strong criticism with comments such as ‘questionable material’ and ‘thoroughly and wilfully vulgar’. Featuring a man and two women on an unchaperoned champagne picnic, it was judged by critics as alluding to prostitution, but this was perhaps related to anti-French sentiment of the time.

The work was owned and probably commissioned by Kaye Knowles whose wealth came from his grandfather’s Lancashire colliery business. The background contains references to the source of his wealth: a gasworks, coal-freight, smoke from the coal-fired steamships and the Thames itself, vital to British industry.