Monday, February 9, 2009


The son of a successful merchant and a shop assistant, Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in 1836 in Nantes, France. After an early interest in architecture, he decided to become a painter and moved to Paris in 1856 or 1857, quickly achieving official recognition for his work.
Although he enrolled at the academy schools, Tissot received much of his education informally, amongst a circle of avant-garde artists and writers in Paris.
Influential acquaintances included the painters Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and perhaps most important, James McNeill Whistler (shortly after meeting Whistler Tissot anglicized his first name to "James"). Stimulated by the work of poet and critic Charles Baudelaire, these new artists began to spurn scenes of history, religion, or mythology in favor of mundane vignettes from everyday life, emphasizing ephemeral elements such as fashion and contemporary social practices.
(Hall Groat II at

The Last Evening
Oil on canvas, 1873
Guildhall Art Gallery, London
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Brush with gouache and watercolor
over graphite on brown wove laid paper
© J. Paul Getty Trust

Jacques Joseph Tissot made this drawing as an elaborate study for a well-known painting, The Last Evening, now in the collection of the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.
The young woman is contemplating the departure of her love, a sailor who is preparing to go out to sea. Tissot, who often drew and painted people in introspective states of mind, captured her sitting pensively in a rocking chair. She seems lost in thought, staring forward. The fingertips of her right hand barely rest against her pale cheek while her legs extend to reach the chair's footrest. He portrays the woman's clothes realistically, carefully depicting her black-and-white plaid tunic, and juxtaposing it with the brown-red tartan of her skirt. A hat wrapped in gauzy fabric surrounds her shock of strawberry-blonde hair. Tissot used heightening to create vivid and shiny highlights along the chair's frame, while gentle shadows fall beneath the chair, adding depth. His use of gouache simulates the look of oil painting.
Tissot's friend, Margaret Freebody, served as the model for the study and painting. Freebody's husband and brother appear in the painting as well, which depicts the figures gathered on the deck of a ship.
(© J. Paul Getty Trust)
Tissot (1836-1902) was born in France but spent the years between 1871 and 1882 in London, and that period is the focus of the exhibition. It shows his movement from storytelling, which brought him popular acclaim, to a more ambiguous subject matter. His later paintings were a showcase for his mistress and frequent model, Kathleen Newton.

Portait of M.N. (Portrait of Mrs. Newton)
Original drypoint in black ink, 1876
Signed in pencil with the artist's red monogram stamp
Author James Jacques Tissot

This is probably Tissot's greatest and most beautiful portrait of Kathleen Newton, his great and ultimately tragic love. It is a work of extreme delicacy yet great richness, of poetic quiet yet great emotion. Unlike the great majority of Tissot's prints it is worked in pure drypoint, without the strength of underlying pure etching. The use of pure drypoint allowed him to combine extremely fine touches of line, in the drawing of her face for example, with tremendously rich textures in the burr and wiped ink tone in the fur collar or the hat.
Kathleen Newton was the inspiration for some of Tissot's very finest works. Their affair was profound and passionate. She had married a surgeon Isaac Newton in India in 1871, but having confessed to a continuing liaison with a Captain Palliser they were divorced the same year. In late 1871, back in England, Kathleen had a daughter Violet by Palliser but did not continue the relationship. In 1876 she had a son, George, and it was in the same year that she started to live with Tissot. Whether Tissot was George's father is not known. However from 1876 she and Tissot shared a passionate and deeply loving life together.
Because her past was seen as disreputable by Victorian standards their life together had to be hidden from the public eye. In Tissot's large house and garden in north London they created a private world together. This private world is the atmospheric background to many of Tissot's compositions of this period (for example 'Le Croquet' - see no 7 in this catalogue). Kathleen, dressed in wonderful sumptuous garments, was also used by Tissot as the model for some of his most brilliant narrative compositions.
Kathleen had very poor health, and in 1882 she died of consumption. The title 'La Frileuse'x - a woman shivering - refers to the fact that she felt constantly cold.

"Le Portique de la Galerie Nationale a Londres"
1878, etching and drypoint

James Jacques Tissot began etching in 1860 with the art form's popular revival, but then stopped after 1861 and did not etch again until 1875. Mrs. Kathleen Newton (1854-1882) was Tissot's primary model during the period of his most intense printmaking activities, appearing in two dozen of his prints. Until her untimely death of tuberculosis at the age of 28 in the autumn of 1882, Kathleen Newton was the center of Tissot's art and life. The beautiful divorcee was Tissot's muse and his art a celebration of her beauty. After Kathleen's death, Tissot returned to Paris and abandoned graphic work almost entirely, working nearly exclusively on illustrating the Old and New Testaments.
Kathleen Kelly Newton is seen here in the portico of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square in London with the Church of Saint-Martin's-in-the-Fields seen through the portico. Kathleen appears as an art student, carrying a portfolio and wearing the hat and coat seen in other works that feature her. By placing her as an art student at the center of London's art world, Tissot was declaring her signficance to him as his muse. Neither the National Gallery nor the Church of St-Martin's was given clear representation, which is consistent with Tissot's other depictions of significant architectual masterworks (taken in part from Misfeldt).

James Tissot
Date 1890 environ
Author James Tissot
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Tissot
Date 1890 environ
Author James Tissot
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Some of Tissot's best stories are set at sea, or at least on the docks. ''The Captain's Daughter'' lays out the dynamics clearly. At a table a young man is in earnest conversation with an older one. A telescope on the table points toward a young woman who stands at some distance from them, looking through binoculars at the ocean. The symbolism of the telescope is resonant, and viewers can hardly help writing an end to the story. They have that kind of pleasure throughout the show.

The Captain's Daughter
Oil on canvas, 1873
Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Another ripe locus for Tissot is the garden, with the complex ''Holyday'' being the consummate painting in a bucolic setting. But the story is several rather chaotic and sexually charged encounters between men and women. Superficially, the painting seems indebted to Manet's ''Dejeuner sur l'Herbe,'' but Tissot multiplies the complications, and he was fond of painting trees with thick pendulous leaves, a sort of commentary on the lascivious atmosphere of the painting.

Oil on canvas, c.1876
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Also set in a garden is ''The Hammock,'' perhaps Tissot's best evocation of Kathleen Newton. Newton, who sits rather awkwardly in a rope hammock, holds a large rice paper umbrella at the same time that she reads a newspaper. Michael Warner, the curator of the show, remarks in a brochure, that the dog lying near Newton represents both fidelity and sexual desire.

Le hamac [The Hammock]
Etching and drypoint, 1880
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

''The Hammock'' is in very refined Whistler territory, but the British public, used to lavish and panoramic depictions of social life from Tissot, didn't take to these more circumscribed, less pointed compositions. Back in France, Tissot changed again.
(Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

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