Tissot would have been familiar with the Coldstream Guards regiment, as most of its companies had been quartered in London during the 1870s, and the Foot Guards had been based at St John's Wood barracks, close to Tissot's villa at 17 Grove End Road, until about 1876. He may have painted the oil sketches of fifers before spring 1882, when the regiment was sent to Egypt, or during visits to London after he had returned to live in Paris. Coldstream Guards could be seen on duty at several London locations and were present in number for ceremonial occasions, where the regiment's band was a popular highlight. There were 32 fifers and drummers in the Coldstream Guards, one Bandmaster and two Sergeant-drummers (Drum-majors). The young fifer in Tissot's oil sketch is standing on the Parade, a large area with sandy gravel surface in front of the Horse Guards that was used for marching practice (and is now called Horse Guards Parade). Behind him, in the far distance, is the distinctive facade of the Horse Guards, Whitehall, where the army Commander-in-Chief and administration were housed, with a central archway that formed the principal entrance to St James's Park, which faces the fifer and is behind the viewer. Located between Westminster and the Mall, and close to Government offices in Whitehall, the Parade was a busy thoroughfare, as indicated by the figures Tissot shows hurrying along the roadway, which is marked by a slight change of surface and a lamppost. One figure, a woman in brown, carries a package. Groups of soldiers can be seen on the Parade, one to the right in the bright red coats of Guards; two Guards also stand on duty in front of the Horse Guards.
Coldstream Guards had a very distinctive uniform, which Tissot captures with remarkable detail in his fifers. The soft fluff of the tall bearskin caps contrasts with their polished brass-link chin straps. Red jackets, from which the British 'redcoats' get their name, have fringed epaulettes, frogging across the front, sleeve chevrons, decorative collar and cuffs, and large polished brass buttons, with a brass-clasped white belt. Dark-blue trousers have red braid down the sides, similar to French guards’ uniform, and are tucked into polished black boots. In his right hand the fifer holds his instrument; the fullness and redness of his lips suggests recent playing. The fifer in the present painting bears a strong resemblance to one facing the viewer in the second oil sketch, which is probably set in Green Park, close by and to the west of St James's Park, as Tissot shows sloping grass and white-walled villas in the distance.
Having been a soldier himself, and fought in battles during the Siege of Paris in 1870-71, Tissot clearly had sympathy with the young guardsmen. His studies of the red-coated fifers recall the watercolour of an injured young French soldier, beautiful-eyed and tousle-haired, made by Tissot during the Siege and recently acquired by the Tate gallery. The standing fifer also brings to mind Tissot's pencil drawings of other French soldiers, some of which he etched as Souvenirs du siège de Paris, such as Bastien Pradel and Sylvain Perier.
Maurice de Brunhoff, who owned this oil sketch, was a friend of Tissot and collaborated with the artist to publish two volumes of Tissot's illustrations to the Old Testament. The project followed on from Tissot's successful publication of illustrations to the Life of Christ. Tissot died in 1902 before he was able to complete his Old Testament illustrations, but De Brunhoff arranged for their completion, publication, exhibition and marketing.
We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for preparing this catalogue note.
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