All prices listed are for general reader interest only, and are shown in this order: $ (USD)/£ (GBP). All prices listed are Hammer Price (the winning bid amount) unless noted as Premium, indicating that the figure quoted includes the Buyer’s Premium of an additional percentage charged by the auction house, as well as taxes.
By car, you could see five oil paintings by James Tissot within a week, starting in Philadelphia, then driving south to Washington, D.C., and driving further on to Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia. Together, these five paintings survey Tissot’s work from 1865 to 1885, from his shrewd start imitating a renowned Belgian artist, to his big break painting portraits in French aristocratic circles, to his happy domestic years in London with his mistress, and finally, to his determined attempt to make a comeback in Paris after her death.
Marguerite in Church (1865) is one of Tissot’s early works, when as a young artist he imitated the work of the popular Belgian painter Hendrik Leys (1815 –1869). Leys’ painting, The Trental Mass of Berthal de Haze – replete with numerous characters enacting a historical drama against a detailed architectural background – won a gold medal at the 1855 Paris International Exhibition.
In 1859, Tissot traveled to Antwerp, augmenting his art education by taking lessons in Leys’ studio. Of the six paintings by Tissot accepted for the 1861 Salon, three were based on Goethe’s Faust: The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite, Faust and Marguerite in the Garden, and Marguerite at the Service. Tissot had imitated Leys’ fifteenth-century costumes, historical architecture and meticulous details.
A critic of these medieval scenes wrote, “Stop thief! Leys could shout to the Tissot painting; he took my individuality, my skin, like a thief at night carries off a piece of clothing left on a chair.” It wasn’t until 1864, with Two Sisters and Portrait of Mlle. L.L. that Tissot began to paint modern subjects, but he continued to paint medieval scenes for another year or two as well.
Marguerite in Church, an oil painting on a wood panel, was purchased at Christie’s, London, in 1927. Without a frame, it was a gift for Florence Sloane, the wife of William Sloane, who came to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1887 to work in his uncle’s knitting mills. William and Florence were from wealthy families in New York, where they married in 1893. After his uncle died, Sloane took over three mills, renamed the business William Sloane & Co. and acquired Tidewater Knitting Mill in Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1908, the Sloanes built an Arts and Crafts style house on the shore of the Lafayette River in Norfolk and called it The Hermitage.
During World War I, William Sloane’s mills turned out thousands of pairs of fleece-lined long underwear for the Army and Navy while Florence volunteered as postmistress, sewed for the Red Cross, helped at the local hospitals and entertained American, Australian and English troops on the lawn and gardens of her home with cookouts, games and music on summer weekends from 1914 to 1918. The Sloanes entertained as many as 1,800 guests at a time.
Mrs. Sloane helped secure the land for what would become the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, which began as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences 1926. William Sloane was its first president, and Florence Sloane its first director. Even so, Florence traveled to Europe and built an extensive art collection of her own, which was opened to the public in 1942.
You can see James Tissot’s Marguerite in Church – now framed – at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
In 1867, James Tissot painted Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay (1824 –1896), the president of the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris. Two years prior to this commission, Tissot had found his entrée to aristocratic patronage with The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their children [René de Cassagne de Beaufort, marquis de Miramon (1835-1882) and his wife, née Thérèse Feuillant (1836 -1912), with their first two children, Geneviève and Léon on the terrace of the château de Paulhac in Auvergne].
Married in 1853, Eugène Aimé Nicolas Coppens de Fontenay had three children. His daughter, Marthe Jeanne-Marie (1854 – 1898), married Henri, Comte de Meffray [Henri Meffray de Césargues (1846 – 1927)] in 1876; the couple had two children and at least three grandchildren. Eugène’s second daughter, Françoise, was born in 1855, but there is no further information on her. His son, Robert Coppens de Fontenay (1858 – 1925), became a diplomat with the Belgian legation. He married in 1899 and had a son, Jacques Coppens de Fontenay (c. 1900 – 1991).
Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay remained in the family until 1971, when it was sold by Christie’s, London for $ 4,352/£ 1,800. Seven months later, the small but arresting portrait was with the Herman Shickman Gallery, New York, before being purchased by the City of Philadelphia with the W. P. Wilstach Fund in 1972. It is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Gallery 151 on the first floor (European Art 1850-1900); you’ll see it as soon as you enter the gallery.
James Tissot fled Paris in mid-1871, after the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune. He rebuilt his career in London, and within a few years he was living in a large home at 17 (now 44), Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood (west of Regent’s Park) with his young mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854–1882). Hide and Seek (1877) shows Mrs. Newton reading in Tissot’s studio while her nieces and children play. The painting was sold at Christie’s, London in 1957 for $ 2,379/£ 850, then at Sotheby’s, London in 1963 for $ 6,159/£ 2,200. Mrs. C. Behr, London, owned it until at least 1967, after which it belonged to Julian Spiro, Esq. In 1976, it was sold at Christie’s, London for $ 33,002/£ 20,000. Two years later, Hide and Seek was purchased from the Herman Shickman Gallery, New York with the Chester Dale Fund by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. You’ll find Tissot’s depiction of his cozy (and soon to end) domestic life in the East Building, Ground Floor, Gallery 103E, tucked away with the Small French Paintings.
Study for “Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool” (c. 1877-78) depicts Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly Newton in the garden of Tissot’s home in St. John’s Wood, London. This lively oil sketch was given to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia by the American collectors and philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon in 1983.
The painting that resulted from Tissot’s study, Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool (1878), measures 17 by 20 in. (43.2 by 50.7 cm). It was with prominent art dealership Arthur Tooth & Sons in London and then with The Schweitzer Gallery in New York before being sold at Christie’s, London in 1995 for $ 39,857/£ 25,000. The Lot Notes read, “In this oil sketch, possibly made from life, [Kathleen Newton] is seen in the garden of the house in Grove End Road, presumably with the son [born Cecil George Newton, 1876; died Cecil Ashburnham, 1941] she had by either Tissot or a previous lover.”
Shortly after Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis in 1882, James Tissot left London and returned to Paris. During his eleven years in London, he had declined Edgar Degas’ invitation to show his work with the artists who became known as the Impressionists. Making his comeback in Paris in 1885, Tissot displayed a set of fifteen paintings at the Galerie Sedelmeyer called La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman).
One of them, The Artists’ Wives (also called The Artist’s Ladies) (1885) depicts a gathering of artists and their wives on Varnishing Day, the evening before the official opening of the Salon, the annual art exhibition in Paris at the Palais de l’Industrie. The artists could put a final coat of protective varnish on their work, and they and their wives and friends could view the exhibition privately. Tissot depicts the celebratory luncheon on the terrace of the restaurant Ledoyen, with the entrance to the Palais de l’Industrie in the background. Celebrities present include the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), the man with the brown beard and spectacles standing in the center of the picture. The series was also exhibited in London, at the Tooth Gallery, in 1886.
In 1889, The Artists’ Wives was sold at Christie’s, London. It belonged to a Mr. Day, then to Philadelphia art dealer and critic Charles Field Haseltine. By 1894, it was with the Art Association of the Union League of Philadelphia, and by 1981, it was with M. Knoedler and Co. in New York. It was a gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., and The Grandy Fund, Landmark Communications Fund, and “An Affair to Remember” to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1981.
I am grateful to Michelle Hevron, Fine Art Research Assistant, Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, for providing information requested for this article.
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© 2013 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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