In a class by himself: Tissot beyond the competition, 1866

To cite this article: Paquette, Lucy. In a class by himself: Tissot beyond the competition, 1866. The Hammock. <Date viewed.>


By 1866, Tissot’s oil portraits included dapper, upper-class gentlemen, attractive and well dressed ladies of leisure, and a wealthy-looking boy of 12 or so wearing knee breeches and red and white diced Scottish hose.  Most stunning was his Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née Thérèse Feuillant, in her husband’s castle, the château de Paulhac in Auvergne.  Tissot depicts the 30-year-old Marquise wearing a pink velvet housecoat, leaning on the mantel in her sitting room with a stylish Japanese screen behind her.

Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant (1866), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, unframed: 50 1/2 by 30 3/8 in. (128.3 by 77.2 cm). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

At the Paris Salon in 1866, Tissot showed Young Woman in a Church (Jeune Femme dans une Église) and The Confessional (Leaving the Confessional, 1865), a keepsake picture of a fashionable woman.

display_image, Southampton Tissot

Leaving the Confessional (1865), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 45 ½ by 27 ¼ in. (115.4 by 69.2 cm). Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton, U.K. (Photo:

Though neither painting earned particular acclaim, Tissot was elected hors concours – beyond the competition, or, in a class by himself:  from now on, he could exhibit any painting he wished at the annual Salon, without submitting his work to the jury’s scrutiny.  Only artists who had won three major awards at previous Salons were eligible to receive this honor.  How did a 30-year old artist, who had won no medals following his honorable mention in 1861, rise to this height in only his seventh year of exhibiting?  One 20th century scholar has suggested the rationale that Tissot had earned a substantial following by this time.  But in terms of official endorsement from the Salon, could it be that the suave, ambitious and well-connected young artist was being rewarded for being reliably traditional in a time of open rebellion among artists of his age?

The price for his pictures skyrocketed.

Showing a real 'vernissage' (note the workers ...

Showing a real ‘vernissage’ (note the workers in the background), Salon de Paris, 1866. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Tissot, from 1857, had been using photography to record all the paintings he produced.  He also recorded in his carnet (notebook), the sale dates and prices.  In 1863, he had been more than 100,000 francs in debt, but Tissot now was earning over 70,000 francs a year.  At 30, he decided to purchase property – on the most prestigious new thoroughfare in Paris, the avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch).

The avenue de l’Impératrice, built in 1856, ran from the Place de l’Étoile to the new imperial playground of the Bois de Boulogne, west of the city.  The tree-lined avenue, less than a mile long and 394 feet wide (1300 by 120 meters), was divided into spacious, separate lanes for carriages, horseback riders and pedestrians, and soon it was lined on both sides with splendid villas.

Tissot purchased a lot at No. 64 on a little street running off the avenue itself, near the Bois.  Certainly his income had greatly increased, and his mother had left him an inheritance when she died in 1861, though there is no record of its worth.  I discovered another likely factor in his acquisition while reading a book about Parisian artists written in the 1880s:

In France, a country whose monuments are the records of its history, he whom art makes great occupies an important relation to the state as well as society. France fosters art, provides for its necessities, endows it richly, because it recognizes in its growth not only a magnificent industry, but a means of education and refinement that nothing else can produce. She throws around it the same laws which protect her commercial interests, making art a legitimate profession, and socially opens to her artists the same doors that she does to her scholars, soldiers, literati, and statesmen […] Baron Haussmann planned an artist quarter in the vicinity of Passy and the Bois de Boulogne.   The city offered land to sculptors and painters on very favorable terms, and proffered assistance in building.

Tissot, the son of a husband and wife team of self-made merchants who bought themselves an imposing eighteenth-century château in the county in the thirteenth year of their marriage, was even more astute with his money.

He would be living in grand style in his luxurious new villa by late 1867 or early 1868.

Still Life with Shells (1866), by James Tissot. (Photo:

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