Modern Painter: Tissot’s Focus Shifts, 1864

In 1863, Tissot became close friends with Alphonse Daudet, (1840 – 1897) a young writer who had published a volume of poetry (The Lovers) in 1858, and who rented the room below him on the rue Bonaparte.  Daudet was employed as a secretary to the Duc de Morny, the Emperor’s illegitimate half-brother who served as a powerful appointed minister.

Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s salon at 24 rue de Courcelles, Paris (1859), by Giraud Sébastien Charles (1819-1892). Musée national du château de Compiègne. Photo:

The Duc de Morny treated Daudet kindly and helped him get a start in life; perhaps it was through Morny that Daudet attended the literary and artistic receptions held weekly by Princess Mathilde.

Mathilde may have taken an interest in Daudet’s friend, the handsome young painter James Tissot.

An event in 1863 that more immediately influenced Tissot’s career was the publication of the critical essay, The Painter of Modern Life, by poet and writer Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).  Baudelaire exhorted artists to be flâneurs – passionate spectators of modern life, especially daily urban life.  Manet’s work already reflected Baudelaire’s ideas, as the two had been good friends for nearly a decade.  Tissot’s paintings in the 1864 Salon now reflected this trend toward capturing “modernity,” and he began to hit his stride as an artist.  The Two Sisters may have been a double portrait; the elder model reappears in Portrait of Mademoiselle L.L.   

Portrait of Mademoiselle L.L. (1864), by James Tissot. (Photo:

In this informal portrait, with her direct gaze, confident in her trendy red Zouave jacket and bookish pursuits, she is the epitome of contemporary womanhood.  One critic wrote, “Mr. Tissot, the crazy primitive of the most recent Salons has suddenly changed his manner and moved closer to Mr. Courbet, a good mark for Mr. Tissot.”

The Two Sisters, by James Tissot (Photo:

Tissot also exhibited work in London in 1864, choosing to show medieval pictures.  He had two pictures on display at the Society of British Artists (The Elopement and The Return of the Prodigal Son), and at the Royal Academy Exhibition, an oil painting called At the Break of Day.  Considering it was one little foreign submission among thousands of British works, he was fortunate to receive even this much critical notice:

Owing to its small dimensions and its place close to the floor, special direction is needed to point attention to Mr. James Tissot’s unnamed little picture of a snow-covered street in a medieval town at night.  The painting of this little picture, and the power with which its dreary incident has been conceived and expressed, should have earned it a better place.

Other critics wrote that Tissot was a “powerful observer of character,” but that his ancient subject matter was “bizarre.”

His modern Paris paintings were, on the other hand, unqualified successes.  Whether or not these two large portraits relied on professional models, they were meant to solicit commissions, establishing Tissot as a painter who deftly captured individuality and personal elegance.

And how did Tissot’s friends fare in the 1864 Salon?  Degas was not ready to exhibit, but Lourens Tadema (the Dutchman who later restyled himself Lawrence Alma-Tadema), at 28, made his Salon début with a painting he had shown the previous year in Brussels:  Pastimes in Ancient Egypt (18th Dynasty).  According to his biographer, “it caused a sensation and won a gold medal.  Napoleon III offered 3,000 francs for it, but the artist declined the offer, valuing it at 4,000.”

Manet and Whistler, but not Tissot, were included in a Salon picture of the new generation of French painters — Homage to Delacroix, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904).  Exhibited in the 1864 Salon, the painting featured the most prominent of the young artists who had earned a reputation in the previous year’s Salon des Réfuses, and Whistler was given center stage.

Hommage à Delacroix, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1864). Photo:

Though there was again a Salon des Réfuses in 1864, Manet had two pictures accepted to the regular Salon, to prevent him from becoming as celebrated an outcast he had been in 1863.  The critics were disgusted with his Incident in a Bull Ring and The Dead Christ with Angels, calling him “a frightful Realist” and condemning his grubby figure of Christ as “in bad taste.”  But the more they pummeled Manet – who had yet to sell a single painting — the more prestige he gained in Paris’ intellectual and artistic circles.

Meanwhile, Courbet’s Venus jealously pursuing Psyche — a picture with a mythological title and a lesbian theme — was rejected by the 1864 Salon jury as “indecent.”  Courbet countered, “If that picture is immoral, we ought to shut up all the museums in Italy, France and Spain.”  It didn’t hurt sales — a former Turkish ambassador to France wished to purchase this picture, but another patron already had snapped it up.

Whistler was in London collecting blue and white Japanese porcelain for his house.  His mother had moved in.  He missed the submission deadline for the Salon but exhibited two well-received oil paintings at the Royal Academy:  Wapping (which he had been working on for four years) and The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, which sold for £60-80.

Wapping, by James McNeill Whistler. (Photo:

The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Photo:

Also in London, Millais exhibited My Second Sermon at London’s Royal Academy; he had exhibited My First Sermon in 1863.  The pair of paintings depicted an adorable little girl modeled by his daughter, Effie, first sitting attentively in church, then nodding off to sleep.

My Second Sermon, by J.E. Millais. (Photo:

Courting the public, Millais also exhibited a double portrait of the daughters of Sir John Pender called Leisure Hours.  One critic summed it up:  this was the type of portraiture that would prevent photography from taking over.  Millais was elected a member of the Royal Academy this year.

Leisure Hours, by J.E. Millais (Photo:

Tissot must have admired Millais – as a man, as a painter, and as a successful businessman.  The young French artist was shrewd enough to see how to get ahead – and he did.

© Copyright Lucy Paquette 2012.  All rights reserved.

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