James Tissot

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Tissot in 1898 (detail of a self-portrait on silk).

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (15 October 1836 – 8 August 1902) was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter of Paris society before moving to London in 1871.[1]

Early life[edit]

Tissot was born in the port town of Nantes, France, Europe, to a family of Italian descent.[citation needed] His father, Marcel Théodore Tissot, was a successful drapery merchant. His mother, Marie Durand, assisted her husband in the family business and designed hats. A devout Catholic, Tissot's mother instilled pious devotion in the future artist from a very young age. Tissot's youth spent in Nantes likely contributed to his frequent depiction of shipping vessels and boats in his later works. The involvement of his parents in the fashion industry is believed to have been an influence on his painting style, as he depicted women's clothing in fine detail. By the time Tissot was 17, he knew he wanted to pursue painting as a career. Although his father did not initially support this decision, they eventually reconciled.[citation needed]

Early career[edit]

In 1856 or 1857, Tissot travelled to Paris to pursue an education in art. While staying with a friend of his mother, painter Elie Delaunay, Tissot enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study in the studios of Hippolyte Flandrin and Louis Lamothe,[2] both successful Lyonnaise painters who came to Paris to study under Ingres. Lamothe provided a majority of Tissot's studio education, while he studied on his own as most other artist of time by copying works at the Louvre. Around this time, Tissot also made the acquaintance of James McNeill Whistler as well as Edgar Degas (who had also been a student of Lamothe and a friend of Delaunay) and Édouard Manet.[citation needed]

In 1859, Tissot exhibited in the Paris Salon for the first time. He showed five paintings of scenes from the Middle Ages, many depicting scenes from Goethe's Faust.[3] These works show the influence over his work of the Belgian painter Henri Leys (Jan August Hendrik Leys), whom Tissot had met in Antwerp earlier that same year.[citation needed]

Mature career[edit]

Portrait of James Tissot, Edgar Degas

In about 1863, Tissot suddenly shifted his focus from the medieval style to the depiction of modern life through portraits. During this period, Tissot found himself held in high critical acclaim, quickly becoming a successful artist. Like contemporaries such as Alfred Stevens and Claude Monet, Tissot also explored japonisme, including Japanese objects and costumes in his pictures. A portrait of Tissot by Degas from these years (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) shows him with a Japanese screen hanging on the wall. [4]

Tissot fought in the Franco-Prussian War as part of the improvised defense of Paris, joining two companies of the Garde Nationale and later as part Paris Commune. Either because of the political associations caused by the latter (which he was believed to have joined to protect his own belongings), or simply because of better opportunities, he left Paris for London in 1871. Having already worked as a caricaturist for Thomas Gibson Bowles, the owner of the magazine Vanity Fair, as well as exhibited at the Royal Academy, Tissot arrived with established social and artistic connections in London. Bowles gave Tissot both a place to stay as well as a cartooning job for "Vanity Fair".[5]

On the Thames, 1882[6]

He quickly developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life. By 1872, Tissot was able to purchase his own home in St John's Wood, an area of London very popular with artists at the time. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists, "in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors'".[7]

Brooklyn Museum - Annas and Caiaphas (Anne et Caïphe) - James Tissot Brooklyn Museum.

In 1874, Degas asked him to join them in the first exhibition organized by the artists we call the Impressionists, but Tissot refused. He continued to be close to the artists however. Berthe Morisot visited him in London in 1874 and he traveled to Venice with Édouard Manet at about the same time. He regularly saw Whistler, who influenced Tissot's Thames scenes.

In 1875-6, Tissot met a divorcee named Mrs. Kathleen Newton, who became the painter's companion and frequent model. Newton gave birth to a son, Cecil George Newton in 1876, who is believed to be Tissot's son. She moved into Tissot's household in St. John's Wood in 1876 and stayed there until her death in the late stages of consumption in 1882. Tissot would frequently refer to these years with Newton as the happiest of his life, a time when he was able to live out his dream of a family life.[8]

After Kathleen Newton's death, Tissot returned to Paris. A major exhibition of his work took place in 1885 at the Galerie Sedelmeyer, where he showed 15 large paintings in a series called La Femme à Paris. Unlike the genre scenes of fashionable women he painted in London, these paintings represent different types and classes of women, shown in their professional and social contexts. The works suggest the influence of Japanese prints in their use of unexpected angles and framing, as well as a monumental context shown in the size of the canvases.[citation needed]

Late career[edit]

James Tissot,Angels Holding a Dial Indicating the Different Hours of the Acts of the Passion,Brooklyn Museum.

In 1885, Tissot experienced a re-conversion to Catholicism, which led him to spend the rest of his life illustrating the Bible. Many of his artist friends were skeptical about his conversion, as it conveniently coincided with the French Catholic revival, a reaction against the secular attitude of the French Third Republic. At a time when French artists were still working in impressionism, pointilism, and heavy oil washes, Tissot was moving toward realism in his watercolors. To assist in his completion of biblical illustrations, Tissot traveled to the Middle East in 1886, 1889, and 1896 to make studies of the landscape and people. His series of 365 gouache illustrations showing the life of Christ were shown to critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences in Paris (1894–5), London (1896) and New York (1898–9), before being bought by the Brooklyn Museum in 1900.[9] They were published in a French edition in 1896–7 and in an English one in 1897–8, bringing Tissot vast wealth and fame. Tissot spent the last years of his life working on paintings of subjects from the Old Testament (Jewish Museum, New York).[10] Although he never completed the series, he exhibited 80 of them in Paris in 1901 and engravings after them were published in 1904. Tissot died in Doubs, France on August 8th, 1902, while living in the Château de Buillon, which he had inherited from his father in 1888. [11]

See also[edit]


References and sources[edit]

  • Biography of Tissot with recent information on Kathleen Newton
  • Misfeldt, Willard E. "Tissot, James [Jacques-Joseph]" in Oxford Art Online.
  • Wentworth, Michael. "James Tissot." Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984. Print
  • Wood, Christopher. "Tissot: Life and Work of Jacques Joseph Tissot 1836-1902." London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986. Print.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]