Seasickness at the Ball, on Board an English Corvette


François–Auguste Biard ( French, 1798 - 1882 )

About 1860s
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General Description

Precisely and delicately painted, this crowded scene is an unusual representation of crossing the English Channel in the middle of the 19th century. The pitching boat disturbs an improvised shipboard ball. On the left, a harpist has fallen between the legs of her fellow guitarist while a young gypsy, unperturbed, continues to ask for money. The people in this painting embody the different ways travelers respond to a situation. Some endure a violent bout of seasickness, tumble on each other, scream, and shout, while others smoke, sleep, or read, following their usual routines. Attention to costumes, different classes, and the minute description of characters creates an invaluable and humorous record of French society in the mid-19th century.

An adventurous painter, François-Auguste Biard took many trips during the first part of the 19th century. He was probably the first European painter to travel to the Arctic Circle and paint icebergs. He was also, as seen in this painting, a perfect observer of contemporary life.

Adapted from

Heather MacDonald, DMA label copy, 2010