'The Tugboat', photograph by Gustave Le Gray

'The Tugboat', photograph by Gustave Le Gray

'The Tugboat'
Photograph by Gustave Le Gray
1856
Albumen print from collodion-on-glass negative
Museum no. 68:000
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the image The Tugboat the atmospheric cloud forms are echoed by a dark plume of smoke coming from a steam-powered tug boat. 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 to mean literally ‘against the day’.