Painted in 1886.
The vessel Hassan achieved some recognition through a series of seven short stories published in the Herald in August 1890 entitled "From Puteaux to Rouen," which humorously detailed the adventures and mishaps of five American ladies on a cruise up the Seine. Of the Hassan, the narrator wrote, "she is a saucy craft with white awnings over her light blue sides and leather cushions on the seats, and she cuts the water straight as an arrow" ("From Puteaux to Rouen," in The New York Herald (European Edition), August 4, 1890, p. 3). It is probable that one of the ladies on board, and in turn one of the ladies in Full Speed, was Lillie Langtry, the British-American socialite, actress and former mistress to the Prince of Wales. The costume of the central figure resembles an illustration featuring Lillie that was published in the first episode of "From Puteaux to Rouen" (see fig. 1). Bennett and Langtry, both close friends of Stewart, were featured in multiple compositions by the artist, one of the most celebrated being the monumental On the Yacht “Namouna,” Venice (see fig. 2). Like the short stories published in the Herald, Stewart’s paintings are parallel episodes from his adventurous social life, featuring his friends and outings. While many of his other large-scale Salon submissions, such as Five O’Clock Tea (1884) and The Hunt Ball (1885), depict crowded parties and boisterous gatherings, Full Speed situates the viewer on board the Hassan, sharing an intimate view among glamorous friends.
The painting achieved international success almost immediately. After its exhibition in the Paris Salon des artistes français in 1886, Full Speed almost certainly traveled to the 1891 International Art Exhibition in Berlin, where Stewart was awarded a gold medal. A black and white engraving of the work was published in a spread in Harper’s Bazaar on May 7, 1887, where it was described as a "seductive and charming" work, and Stewart was recognized for having "the profoundest interest in happy, well-dressed men and women outdoors in the sunshine, delineating them and their surroundings with exquisite and refined fancy." As the writer concluded, Stewart is a true "'modern,' and his pictorial talents concern themselves not with great moving dramas like Delacroix, but with the society drama" (Harper’s Bazaar, op. cit., p. 332).
Known only through the engraving published in the Figaro-Salon of 1886 and Harper’s Bazaar, and a smaller compositional study (sold in these rooms on May 31, 1984), Full Speed has remained untraced since the late nineteenth century. Exhibited today for the first time in over a century, Full Speed is an extraordinary rediscovery among Stewart’s enduring artistic legacy.
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