He turned his back on the Paris art world and left France a ruined man.
He painted better than Britain’s best but lived under suspicion.
Will he be ruined a second time?
French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902) hit his artistic stride in Paris from 1864 to 1870, painting stylish modern women and aristocrats in his chic new studio in the leisured years before the Franco-Prussian War. After fighting bravely with the National Guard to defend Paris, he arrived in London with only a hundred francs to his name and a damaged reputation from some level of involvement with the radical Paris Commune. But he was a tireless and methodical worker as well as a virtuoso of the Academic painting style that he learned from Hippolyte Flandrin (1809 – 1864), Louis Lamothe (1822 – 1869) and the Neoclassical work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867), and he quickly rebuilt his life. In Paris, his wayward friends Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet struggled to sell their work; in London, his American expatriate friend Jimmy Whistler was a laughingstock. Through Tissot’s shrewd decisions in London, his career skyrocketed for a second time, from 1871 to 1879, and again he become a multi-millionaire.
But popular tastes change, and this decade saw the birth of modern art. Tissot was not a man ahead of his time – he was a man keeping up with the times. When the Impressionists redefined art on the Continent and Whistler ushered in the Aesthetic Movement in Britain, Tissot was out of step. With his essentially conservative work focusing on the psychological tension of the central figures and implied narrative, he quickly fell behind the trend of “art for art’s sake,” becoming a footnote in Art History.
The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot is a psychological portrait, exploring the forces that unwound the career of this complex man. After he fled Paris in 1871, there was no going back to his pre-war prominence. If he wanted to survive in the British Establishment’s art market, he had to decide whether to make it on their terms — or live the life he wanted, with the woman he loved.
The Hammock’s cast of characters includes Jimmy Whistler, Louise Jopling, J.E. and Effie Millais, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and many other figures of the dynamic 1870s during the birth of modern art in London and Paris. Follow my blog for the stories behind the story!
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