Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Photograph - The Tugboat
  • The Tugboat
    Le Gray, Gustave, born 1820 - died 1884
  • Enlarge image

The Tugboat

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1856 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Le Gray, Gustave, born 1820 - died 1884 (photographers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from collodion-on-glass negative

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case DELTA, shelf 3

In this image the atmospheric cloud forms are echoed by a dark plume of smoke coming from a steam-powered tugboat. Behind it trails a sailing ship. Whether the tug is pulling or overtaking the ship, the comparison between the two vessels is striking. The suggestion is that the traditional is literally overtaken by the modern. The forms on the horizon stand out in silhouette, or contre jour - a French term used by artists and literally meaning ‘against the day’.

Le Gray made a series of seascapes that was famous for capturing dramatic lighting and weather conditions. He used glass negatives that were the same size as his photographs (around 40 x 30 cm). He placed the negative directly on top of photographic paper and printed in sunlight. The prints were then toned in a solution of gold chloride in hydrochloric acid. This resulted in a rich, violet-purple colour and had the added benefit of stabilising the images to help them withstand fading over time.

Most of the V&A’s fine group of Le Gray seascapes came to the Museum in 1868 as part of the bequest of the millionaire art collector Chauncy Hare Townshend. He had kept them in portfolios along with his watercolours, etchings and engravings. They have therefore remained in excellent condition, preserved to museum standards almost since they were made.

Physical description

Photograph of a tugboat and sailing ship at sea.

Place of Origin

France (made)


1856 (made)


Le Gray, Gustave, born 1820 - died 1884 (photographers)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from collodion-on-glass negative


Height: 31.1 cm, Width: 41.3 cm

Descriptive line

19thC, Townshend Bequest, 1868; Le Gray, Gustave. Seascsape with Yacht and Tugboat, Normandy, 1856-59


Albumen silver process

Subjects depicted

Tugboat; Sailing ship; Seascape




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.