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Tissot began painting light-hearted, sexually suggestive pictures, which would have been shocking in a contemporary context. He safely set them in the years of the French Directory (1795 to 1799), as if they depicted behaviors of a bygone time. One critic at the time observed that Tissot was dapper and personable, but thought him a little pretentious and a less-than-great artist “because he did what he wanted to do and as he wished to do it.” Tissot, having made his own way to the top of his profession, probably was a little smug in his success. Certainly, after winning the right in 1866 – at age 30 — to exhibit anything he wished at the Salons and now busy with commissions from his aristocratic patrons, he did not need to kowtow to the critics.
At the 1868 Salon, Tissot exhibited an eighteenth-century costume piece, Un Déjeuner, and Beating the Retreat in the Tuileries Gardens, which was bought by Napoleon III’s influential cousin, Princess Mathilde. Demonstrating his range (perhaps unnecessarily by this time), Tissot also showed a watercolor, Melancholy, and a pastel portrait.
Degas exhibited only one work, his first major picture focused on dancers: Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet “La Source.” He might have had another painting at the 1868 Salon; Tissot encouraged him to hurry and finish Interior (The Rape). An envelope exists (now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France) with Tissot’s scribbled suggestions to Degas on this painting-in-progress. Tissot was late arriving at Degas’ studio and missed his friend, but wrote on the back of the envelope: “Jenny turned out of the house. Pierre very annoyed, carriage difficult to find, delay because of Angele, arrived at the café too late, a thousand excuses. I shall compliment you on the picture only in person. Be careful of the rug beside the bed, shocking. The room too light in the background, not enough mystery. The sewing box too conspicuous, or instead not vivid enough. The fireplace not enough in shadow (think of the vagueness of the background in the “green woman” by Millais [believed to refer to Millais’ The Eve of St. Agnes, exhibited at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition]. Tissot’s notes continue, “Too red the floor. Not proprietary enough the man’s legs. Only hurry up, there is just enough time. I shall be at Stevens’s [Belgian artist Alfred Stevens] house tonight. For the mirror here is the effect, I think [Tissot sketched the mirror above the fireplace]. The ceiling should be lighter in a mirror. Very light, while throwing the room into shadow. Hurry up, hurry up.”
On the front of the envelope, Tissot scrawled: “Beside the lamp on the table, something white to thrust the fireplace back, a ball of thread (necessary) [Here Tissot sketched the table, sewing-box, lamp and ball of thread.] Darker under the bed. A chair there or behind the table would perhaps be good. It would make the rug beside the bed acceptable [Tissot included a sketch of the table, with a chair in front of it.]
Manet exhibited Young Lady in 1866 and Portrait of Émile Zola; it was his first Salon since he showed Olympia in 1865, and though these paintings were accepted, they were not prominently displayed. Predictably, the Establishment critics disparaged his work, while the progressive critics praised it. Of the Zola portrait, one critic commented that it looked more like a still life, while another considered it “one of the best portraits in the Salon.” Compared to what he had endured, the reception Manet received now was calmer. Zola himself was encouraged for Manet and wrote in his review, “Success is on the way.” Others made more pointed observations: “The leader, the hero of Realism, is now Manet,” wrote one, while another resigned himself to the inevitable ascendancy of the new young painters, whose beauties “escape the rest of us old Romantic greybeards.”
Still, during 1867 and 1868, Manet painted few pictures: only six in 1867 and seven in 1868. He destroyed many unfinished canvases; his confidence was shaken by the constant rejection of his work. He was no friend of Napoleon III, but he also was drifting away from his former comrade, Courbet, who was more than a bit jealous of the younger artist’s notoriety.
In the last week of July, Manet made his first trip to London, to “explore the terrain over there,” as he wrote to Degas, “since it could provide an outlet for our products.” Degas declined to join him, and when Manet returned, he wrote to another friend, “Degas was really silly not to have come with me.” He added, “I was enchanted by London, the feel of the place, the atmosphere, I liked it all and I’m going to try to show my work there next year.” He noted that Degas, who was painting The Parade, (also known as Race Horses in front of the Tribunes, Musée d’Orsay) had missed an opportunity, as “those well-trained horses would have inspired a few pictures.”
In a year, Tissot would go to London — and find immediate opportunity.
© 2012 Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.
Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color
Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
(295 pages; ISBN (ePub): 978-0-615-68267-9). See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.