James Tissot was talented, resourceful and independent, and he made his own decisions. He didn’t shock, he didn’t break new ground, but he instinctively seized on emerging art themes. He was a gentleman, a man of business, and a supremely accomplished, Academically-trained painter.
He seemed to have no self-doubt, and he was on a winning streak of his own making: he chose the path that led to financial rewards and Establishment acceptance while skirting the artistic rebellion of his friends.
In late 1867 or early 1868, Tissot moved from the rue Bonaparte on the Left Bank into the sumptuous new villa he had built at the most prestigious address in Haussmann’s renovated Paris: the twelve-year-old avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch). His mansion, actually on a private, quiet spur street later called the Square de Bois du Boulogne (now Square de l’avenue Foch), was very close to the gilded Dauphine gate, or porte, through the fortified wall encircling the city. Just west of Porte Dauphine was the extensive, fashionable recreational park, the Bois de Boulogne. On the other side of the Bois, high on a hilltop, stood Fort Mont-Valérien, the strongest military fortress protecting Paris. The Arc de Triomphe was a short walk to the east of Tissot’s new villa.
The avenue de l’Impératrice was extra-wide, with separate lanes for pedestrians, horseback riders and carriage traffic. Exclusively residential, the avenue was flanked by broad, grassy slopes planted with colorful flowers. The fashionable Parisians who promenaded or showed off their splendid horses there frequently glimpsed Napoléon III’s carriage with his green-and-gold liveried footman, the Empress Eugénie and her friends in an open barouche — off to the Bois to boat on the lakes — or Imperial soldiers on their impressive grey mounts. The avenue de l’Impératrice was, like London’s Hyde Park, the place to see and be seen.
When Tissot visited London in 1862, he had particularly admired English buildings and gardens. He then had built his Paris home as “an English-style villa,” high on a basement ground floor, with a first floor and a second floor with a terrace above, a courtyard and small garden.
In his painting La Cheminée (By the Fireside, c. 1869)*, intriguing details of his luxurious interior are visible – the elaborate marble fireplace and its mantle and firebox decorated with tasteful accessories, Oriental carpet, tall windows dressed with tasseled drapes. Tissot’s L’escalier (The Staircase, 1869) shows the lovely wallpaper, stained glass panels, inlaid floors and expensive furnishings as well as a glimpse of his collection of blue-and-white porcelain vases. People streamed to Tissot’s villa to view both his art and his renowned collection of Japanese and Chinese objects.
Imagine what his father, who early on had opposed his determination to be a painter in Paris, might have thought.
Tissot’s address was no. 64, avenue de l’Impératrice.
Among his neighbors were the influential American dentist, Thomas W. Evans (1823 –1897), whose home, “Bella Rosa,” stood at no. 41, at the intersection of avenue Malakoff; Dr. Evans also owned lot no. 43, adjacent to no. 41.
The Prince and Princess de Bauffremont owned an acre lot at no. 36, and the United States Minister to France, Elihu Benjamin Washburne (1816 – 1887), resided at no. 75.
In 1868, most likely due to his portraits of the Marquis de Miramon and his wife and family in 1865 and 1866, Tissot was commissioned to paint the most lucrative and elaborate painting of his career, a group portrait of the twelve members of “The Circle of the Rue Royale” on a balcony of the Hôtel de Coislin overlooking the Place de la Concorde: the Marquis de Miramon, the Comte de la Tour Maubourg, Marquis de Lau, Comte de Ganay, Comte de Rochechouart, C. Vansittant, Baron Hottinger, Marquis de Ganay, Gaston Saint-Maurice, Prince de Polignac, Marquis de Gallifet and Charles Haas (standing far right). The members of this exclusive private club, founded in 1852. each paid 1,000 francs toward the painting, whose owner was selected through a drawing. The winner was Baron Hottinger, seated to the right of the sofa. [The painting remained in his family until 2011, when it was purchased by the Musée d’Orsay for about 4 million euros.]
It had been just twelve years since Tissot had earned an income drawing portraits of maids and hotel housekeepers for thirty or forty francs a head.
* La Cheminée (By the Fireside, c. 1869), which was in The John and Frances L. Loeb Collection from 1955 until sold at auction at Christie’s, New York in 1997 for $1,872,500 USD, brought £1,573,250 ($2,600,582) from a telephone bidder on June 11, 2003, at Christie’s, London.
© 2012 Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
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