The American Civil War had ended and President Lincoln had been assassinated by the opening of the Salon of 1865, but life was placid enough for James Tissot. He exhibited The Attempted Abduction* and Spring. The first painting, a scene of a duel over a woman, was another of Tissot’s medieval pictures, and the critics were disappointed in him. The second picture, however, received some praise because of its similarities to Millais’ Apple Blossoms (Spring), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859.
Millais, at the Royal Academy in 1865, exhibited an oil painting based on a Tennyson subject, Swallow! Swallow! Flying South. It was bought by the distinguished London art dealer William Agnew (1825 – 1910), who helped foster the market for British contemporary art. Millais also exhibited The Enemy Sowing Tares, Esther, The Romans Leaving Britain, and Joan of Arc. Millais, newly a member of the Royal Academy, found that success breeds success, and his pictures were snapped up by well-heeled buyers. In addition that year, he painted portraits including the son of his friend, Tom Taylor.
Tom Taylor (1817 – 1880) was the editor of Punch magazine, a professional art critic and a popular playwright. Among his other works, he wrote Our American Cousin – the farce that U.S. President Lincoln was seeing at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. In 1865, Tom Taylor’s Ballads and Songs of Brittany was published by Macmillan & Co. It was illustrated by several artists including Millais and Tissot, who provided the Frontispiece and further widened his reputation in Great Britain.
Tissot’s Dutch friend, Lourens Tadema (later Lawrence Alma-Tadema), living in Antwerp, had career-changing luck the previous summer when he was discovered by the influential art dealer Ernest Gambart (1814 – 1902). Gambart, who had a gallery at Trafalgar Square as well as in Brussels, was impressed by Tadema’s work-in-progress Egyptian chess players (No 60, completed 1865) and commissioned twenty-four pictures. He then ensured that three of Tadema’s paintings were exhibited in London in April, 1865. Pastimes in Ancient Egypt (18th Dynasty) (No 56, 1863), Egyptian chess players (No 60, 1865) and Birthday presents in the 16th century (No 61, 1865) were included in Gambart’s 12th Annual French and Flemish Exhibition at the French Gallery, Pall Mall, but the 29-year-old Tadema’s début in England received little notice.
In Paris, Degas made an unremarkable Salon début in 1865 with a history picture, Scene of War in the Middle Ages (called Misfortunes of the City of Orléans after his death).
But his attention had drifted to learning the art of wax sculpture from his friend, Louis-Alfred-Joseph Cuvelier, an innovative, aspiring young equestrian sculptor who cast his work in bronze.
Obsessed with capturing motion, Degas experimented with frameworks of twisted wire on a wooden plank, using wine corks as filler for the horse’s head and body.
Degas modeled his sculptures in colored beeswax, did not cast his work in bronze, and never publicly exhibited his wax sculptures.
At the Salon, Whistler exhibited The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelain), in which he had painted Christina Spartali on a 6.5’ by 4’ canvas, tall and sway-backed as if she were a design on a multi-colored Japanese vase. The picture provoked a negative response from the critics as well as Christina’s father, the Greek consul in London who commissioned it as a portrait of his daughter but then refused to buy it.
At the Royal Academy Exhibition in London, Whistler exhibited The Little White Girl, showing his Irish mistress and model, Joanna Hiffernan, in a simple white gown. Hung near Millais’ Esther, it did not fare well by contrast; one critic wrote that Whistler made “the most bizarre of bipeds” of all his models. His other pictures there, The Golden Screen and Old Battersea Bridge, received praise for their “subtle beauty of color” and “almost mystical delicacy of tone.” But one critic dismissed Whistler as “half a great artist” and another sniffed that he “lives in intimate communion with fantasy.”
Whistler and Jo joined Courbet, in the late summer and fall of 1865, in Trouville, a fishing village on the Normandy coast which had become a fashionable resort. Courbet had exhibited two scandal-free paintings in the Salon of 1865: a landscape and a portrait, which nevertheless were disliked by the critics. The landscape, The Black Stream, was purchased by the Comte de Nieuwerkerke for the collection of Napolean III. Courbet spent three months in Trouville – painting portraits of rich vacationers such as Countess Károlyi, the wife of a Hungarian diplomat. Along with Whistler and the cocky twenty-four-year old artist, Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Courbet also painted outdoors, capturing the changing light, color and atmosphere with his series of seascapes.
No such peace – or acclaim despite public animosity – was to be had for Édouard Manet. At the Salon in 1865, he showed Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, which offended many by its unidealized figure of Christ, and Olympia, a painting which required guards to protect it from the hostility of the crowds. One critic observed that “Art sunk so low doesn’t even deserve reproach.” Manet was openly mocked in the streets, despised personally for both these pictures. A celebrated painting master at l’École des Beaux-Arts forbade his students to mention Manet’s name. Devastated, saying, “I’ve never been through anything like it,” Manet left for Spain in August. His great friend, the poet, writer and art critic Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), wrote to Manet, “It’s really stupid that you should get so worked up. You’re laughed at, your merits are not appreciated. So what? Do you think you’re the first man to be in that position?”
Tissot, in contrast to his friends Degas, Whistler and Manet, had found acceptance in a circle beyond the Salon, the critics, or intellectual rebels: he had found an entrée to the French aristocracy and was commissioned to paint The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their children [René de Cassagne de Beaufort, Marquis de Miramon (1835-1882), his wife, née Thérèse Feuillant (1836-1912), and their first two children, Geneviève and Léon on the terrace of the château de Paulhac in Auvergne]. Tissot depicted them outdoors, as an informal, affectionate family in the English-style elegance of a Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) or a Joshua Reynolds portrait (1723 – 1792). This painting served as Tissot’s calling card to the lucrative market for Society portraiture.
His self-portrait of 1865 shows him, at 29, ready for, though perhaps wary of, the spectacular success to come.
* Tissot’s The Attempted Abduction (1865, oil on canvas, 26.7 by 38 in.) was sold at auction by Sotheby’s on May 4, 2012 for $134,500.
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