Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Hide and Seek, 1877
Oil on wood
Source and Loc National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C., USA

Several children are playing a game of hide and seek in the home and studio of the French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot (pronounced JAHM ZHOCK JO-SEF TEE-SO).
"READY OR NOT...HERE I COME," shouts the child whose turn it is to look. Ooops! One girl has just peeked from her hiding spot. How many children do you see hiding? Let's take a closer look. Do you think the child in the white dress is a boy or a girl? We're still not positive, but based on the date of the painting and details we know about the artist's family life, we believe that the child on the floor is the artist's daughter. For many years people thought she was Tissot's young son! Back then young boys and girls often wore the same frilly clothing, so it was kind of hard to tell. The children who are hiding may be her cousins, who lived next-door, or playmates. Mom is shown at the far right, reading. The studio is a wonderful place to play hide and seek because it's so cluttered. There are chairs and rugs and tables and screens, each made of a different material and with a different design or pattern on its surface. Each has a different texture (the way something looks and feels: smooth, bumpy, rough, sticky).
In early 1874 Degas wrote, "Look here, my dear Tissot. . . you positively must exhibit at the Boulevard (in the first impressionist exhibition). . . Exhibit. Be of your country and with your friends."
Degas and Tissot, who met as students during the late 1850s, stayed in close communication even after Tissot fled to London in 1871 to avoid punishment for activities in the abortive Commune. Arguing that the benefits of declaring his allegiance to French art outweighed the potential harm it might cause among Tissot's London audience, Degas urged Tissot to show with the impressionists and thereby affirm his ties to France and more particularly to Degas and realism.
Although he chose not to accept the invitation, Tissot, like Degas, worked in a realist vein. Hide and Seek depicts a modern, opulently cluttered Victorian room, Tissot's studio.
After Kathleen Newton entered his home in about 1876, Tissot focused almost exclusively on intimate, anecdotal descriptions of the activities of the secluded suburban household, depicting an idyllic world tinged by a melancholy awareness of the illness that would lead to her death in 1882.
The artist's companion reads in a corner as her nieces and daughter amuse themselves. The artist injected an atmosphere of unease into this tranquil scene by comparing the three lively faces peering toward the infant in the foreground at the left with an ashen Japanese mask hanging near Mrs. Newton in the entry to the conservatory.
Here we’re inside an English room, the artist’s studio. In the fore and middle grounds, four children play at hide and seek (one infant and three faces), while in the background lounges a lovely lady: it’s Kathleen Newton, with whom Tissot lived from 1876. The way Kathleen’s clapped open her paper and wears a slightly sardonic air, while her nieces and daughter amuse themselves, infuses the scene with a kind of cool calm. Once this woman had entered his house and home, Tissot focussed almost only on intimate, everyday depictions of the cut and thrust of the secluded suburban household. So here we get the delicious clutter of a high-end Victorian interior, complete with collapsed cushions on the couches and chaises, animal pelts, angled frames, rimpled rugs and gleaming lamps and ceramics. We also get the delightful froufrou dress on the infant (topped off by a tumble of California curls) and an array of tiny, tense faces behind. Seeping into this room though is a sense of sadness that links to the woman and the way we’d want her to be with the kids. Her separation from them has to do with her health: Kathleen died in 1882 and it’s as if Tissot is trembling with an awareness of her illness here. Just see how he undermines the tranquility with an ashen mask that hangs near Mrs. Newton at the entry to the conservatory.
Just like a real game of hide and seek, the painting "Hide and Seek" by James Jacques Joseph Tissot invites children to be creative and look carefully! Find the painting "Hide and Seek" on the ground level of the East Building in the National Gallery of Art. Take a few minutes to look at this painting. Challenge your children to answer to following questions about the painting:
1) How many chidren do you see?
2) Do you see any toys? Where?
3) What's the adult doing?
4) Can you spot the mask?
5) By looking out the windows in the painting, what kind of day do you think it was?
6) If you were playing hide and seek in this room, where would you hide?
7) How do these children seem different from you (point out their clothes, for example)?
8) How do these children remind you of yourself?

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