Scenes of travel and departure are frequent in Tissot's work during his later years in London. Kathleen Newton, the beautiful Irish divorcee who was his mistress and constant muse during the six years prior to her death, aged twenty-eight, in 1882, invariably figures in these paintings, and it is not hard to see them as a metaphor for the unsettled life he was leading, a refugee in a foreign country, flouting convention by living with a woman who was not his wife and who, as a further element of destabilisation, suffered from a fatal illness.
In the present example Mrs Newton stands on the platform of Victoria station, veiled and wearing a heavy travelling coat with three capes. Her companion hails a hansom cab from a rank of vehicles, the foremost of which is boarded by a bearded man in a white top hat who is another familiar actor in the Tissot repertory. In the foreground is a porter's barrow, with a bundle of umbrellas and impedimenta rolled up in a travelling rug. James Laver, discussing the picture in 1936, speculated as to the inspiration behind it. 'Did Tissot at this time,' he asked, 'contemplate leaving England for ever, taking the lady with him, away from the reach of hostile tongues? If he did, he reconsidered the project, for he knew that Paris was not yet ready to receive him; there were still too many who remembered that he had been, with whatever lack of conviction, a Communard.'
The watercolour can be dated to the early 1880s, and is a replica of the kind that Tissot often made of his more important works. The composition was one of a pair of which the originals seem to be lost, although the watercolour version of the companionpiece, variously entitled By Water or Waiting at Dockside, exists (see Wentworth, op. cit., pl. 149, and James Tissot, exh. Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1984, cat. no. 138, illustrated). The two compositions are represented in the albums of photographs of his paintings that were put together by Tissot himself (Misfeldt, loc.cit.), but it is not clear whether these show the originals or the watercolour replicas. Michael Wentworth has suggested that the originals were the paintings entitled By Land and By Water that Tissot included in the exhibition he held at the Dudley Gallery, Piccadilly, in May 1882, only a few months before Kathleen Newton's death on 9 November that year caused the grief-stricken artist to flee to Paris, never to return. However, the measurements Wentworth gives for these pictures, 63.5 x 27.94 cm., makes them thinner-proportioned than the two extant watercolours, and they may have been variant compositions.
Wentworth also illustrates a painting entitled The Cabstand, Victoria Station, a panel measuring 58.4 x 30.5 cm. (his pl. 150), which is clearly a variant of the present design and may be a study for a different finished oil or watercolour.
We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.