Tate Britain acquires £1.5m ‘Le Passeur’ painting

11th May 2017

The impressionist masterpiece ‘Le Passeur’ (The Ferryman) is now available for all to see, after Tate Britain purchased the painting for £1.5 million.

Created by William Stott of Oldham, the painting is an example of 19th century British impressionism and shows two young girls gazing across a river as they wait for a ferryman. 

According to Alison Smith, the gallery’s curator of British art, the artwork painted in 1881 is likely to become a gallery favourite. She said: “It is an astonishing work, yet very subtle at the same time. It is a lovely picture to look at and technically it is a tour de force but it is very calming as well, very meditative. We might get people coming here just for five minutes.

“On one level it is a beautiful scene, of the river Loire at dusk, the light reflecting on the water and the girls waiting for the ferryman to take them home to the village. But it is also about the passage of life, the older girl contemplating her entire future.”

The painting is believed to be one of Stott's greatest artworks and was created when he was staying at an artist’s colony in the French village of Grez-sur-Loing, close to Fontainebleau. 

Ms Smith believes the artwork is about consciousness, awareness and of teenagers moving into adulthood. “She is moving from being a child to an adult, perhaps to a life that extends beyond the village,” she said. 

While on show at the Paris Salon the painting was well received, yet viewers in London were less enthusiastic, claiming that the painting didn’t have the brushwork finish they expected of the typical British landscape painting. 

However, Le Passeur is believed to have inspired many Scottish impressionists that were equally or even more daring. For example George Clausen and James Guthrie were influenced by Stott, and paintings by these artists will stand alongside his work in the Tate collection. It will also join some of the more later examples of British impressionism, including John Singer Sargent’s 'Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose'.

Tate Britain was able to acquire the masterpiece thanks to funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund and the Hintze Family Charitable Foundation. Art enthusiasts all over the country will be able to catch a glimpse of the work which will soon tour the UK, visiting Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham, Southampton City Art Gallery and Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids. 

Ms Smith has said that because the painting has been privately owned for generations it has many times been written out of the narrative of British impressionism. Nevertheless “it is a beautiful painting in its own right and we imagine it will be a very popular one”, she said.

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