Three of James Tissot’s most well-known oil paintings made their way into public collections in Bristol, 120 miles west of London, and Southampton, about 80 miles southwest of London.
James Tissot fled Paris in May or June, 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune. He arrived in London with less than one hundred francs, and with the help of a handful of friends, he proceeded to rebuild his career. In 1872, TIssot exhibited Les Adieux (1871) and An Interesting Story (c. 1872; click here to read more about this picture at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia) at the Royal Academy. Both paintings were eighteenth-century costume pieces calculated to appeal to the British public. Les Adieux was reproduced as a steel engraving by John Ballin and published by Pilgeram and Lefèvre in 1873 – an indication of its popularity. The picture was owned by wealthy international railway contractor Charles Waring (c. 1827 – 1887). After his death, it was sold at Christie’s, London for 220 guineas to the father of Lt. Col. P.L.E. Walker, from whom it was purchased by the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in 1955. Les Adieux is on display.
Prior to Tissot’s move to London, his paintings were much less sentimental than Les Adieux. Leaving the Confessional (1865) is, like many of Tissot’s pictures, a little naughty for its time. To what sins has the lady confessed?
Tissot exhibited it as Le confessional at the Salon in 1866, when he was 30. Still living in student lodgings in the Latin Quarter, he had gained considerable recognition and success in Paris.
Offered as Leaving the Confessional at the Humphery Roberts sale, Christie’s, London in 1880, the painting failed to find a buyer at £162.15s. It was with George C. Dobell by 1886 and was purchased as In Church from the Leicester Galleries in London in 1936 by the Southampton City Art Gallery through the Frederick William Smith Bequest Fund. It is not on display.
The watercolor version above, The Confessional, is smaller but otherwise is nearly identical to the original oil. It was commissioned in 1867 for 250 francs by American grain merchant and liquor wholesaler William Thompson Walters (1819 – 1894), whose art collection formed the basis of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Upon his death, his son and fellow art collector Henry Walters (1848 – 1931), inherited his father’s collection and bequeathed it to the Walters Art Museum at his death. Tissot’s watercolor has been included in several exhibitions over the years, most recently in 2005-2006, but it is not currently on view.
Once Tissot had moved to London in 1871, he continually sought “British” subject matter, always offering it up with a French twist. He painted The Captain’s Daughter in 1873. The painting is set at the Falcon Tavern in Gravesend, and the woman was modeled by Margaret Kennedy (1840 – 1930), the wife of Tissot’s friend, Captain John Freebody (1834 – 1899). Freebody was the master of the Arundel Castle from 1872-73, and his ship took emigrants to America. Tissot exhibited The Captain’s Daughter, as well as two other paintings [The Last Evening (1873) and Too Early (1873), both at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London], at the Royal Academy in 1873. The Captain’s Daughter was sold at Branch and Lees for £183 15s in 1903 and was later in the possession of The French Gallery at 11 Berkeley Square. It was with the Leicester Galleries, London by 1933 and was purchased through the Frederick William Smith Bequest Fund in 1934 by the Southampton City Art Gallery, where it is on display.
Two other paintings featuring Margaret Kennedy are in a private collection: Boarding the Yacht (1873) and The Captain and the Mate (1873), in which Margaret’s older brother, red-bearded Captain Lumley Kennedy (1819 – 1899), and her sister posed as well. My book, The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot brings Margaret Kennedy, Captain John Freebody and Captain Lumley Kennedy to life. Read it to immerse yourself in the dynamic art world of Paris and London in the 1870s!
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