The captain's daughter is one of the finest of the ten rare gouaches that Tissot made as preliminary studies for his first London pictures in the early 1870s. The figure of the model, Margaret Kennedy, holding binoculars became a central feature in Tissot's 1873 entry to the Royal Academy, a painting also called The captain's daughter.
Tissot moved to London after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 and his response to his new English surroundings was immediate and vivid. The novelty and charm of English life inspired a series of pictures with local subjects that met with great success when they appeared at The Royal Academy exhibitions in the first half of the decade. The handful of gouache studies that Tissot made for several of these pictures, which included The captain's daughter, have a great sense of spontaneity and invention, which is sometimes missing from his finished oils. Poised between the immediacy of first-hand experience and total artistic control, the ten gouache studies are unique in Tissot's oeuvre and may be considered his most important drawings both in technique and aesthetic quality. While Tissot executed other drawings in his career, these were usually watercolor replicas of paintings, and tended to be small in scale and somewhat mechanical copies of the larger oils they reproduce.
Tissot's gouaches all depict single figures of women, drawn from life with an accuracy that required little more than their careful transfer to canvas. They were executed with a freedom that does nothing to negate the marvelous attention to the details of costume and precision of gesture and expression that lie at the heart of his art. The other studies from this series include: A lady in a black and white dress for The return from the boating trip (sale Christie's, New York, 24 May 1989, lot 340); A woman seated in a rocking chair for The last evening (coll. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts); A woman seated in a boat for Waiting (location unknown); A woman standing holding an umbrella for The captain and the mate (coll. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford); two studies of women in evening dress for Too early (location unknown); as well as Women asleep and A woman seated with a lap rug (both coll. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford); and two studies of A woman in a shawl (location unknown) for which no related paintings are now known.
Tissot's final painting of The captain's daughter places the pretty girl on the porch of the Falcon Tavern at Gravesend on the Thames while her father and suitor are seated nearby, most likely discussing her future. The dreamy quality of her presence in the gouache is also conveyed in the oil, but there she becomes less of a mystery, less of an enigma, less of a work of art. It is in Tissot's gouaches, such as The captain's daughter, that his creative spirit is best revealed.
We are grateful to Michael Wentworth for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.