In 1876, James Tissot began exhibiting his work in markets outside London, including the major art centers in Northern England, and today, six of his finest works can be found in museums there.
Tissot displayed The Thames at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1876, the year he painted it. It was attacked by reviewers for The Times, the Athenaeum, the Spectator and the Graphic as depicting a subject they considered thoroughly unBritish – prostitution. What else would the Victorians think of a painting of a rakish officer in a boat with two attractive women and a picnic hamper with three bottles of champagne? The women were perceived as “undeniably Parisian ladies,” and the picture itself, “More French, shall we say, than English?”
As A Picnic on the Thames, the painting was owned by Kaye Knowles, Esq. (1835-1886), whose vast wealth came from shares in his family’s Lancashire coal mining business, Andrew Knowles and Sons. He owned four oil paintings by James Tissot, including The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst (c. 1874, Musée Nationale du Château de Compiègne, France) and In the Conservatory (also known as Rivals, c. 1875-1876, Private Collection). Knowles, a client of London art dealer Algernon Moses Marsden [1848-1920, see Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?], owned a large art collection, including works by Sir Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Rosa Bonheur, Giuseppe De Nittis, Atkinson Grimshaw, Édouard Detaille.
Later, as The Thames, the picture was owned by a Mrs. Newton – no, not that one! – who lived in London, neé Stella Mary Pearce. The painting, which measures 28.5 x 46.5 in. (72.5 x 118 cm.) was purchased from her by the Wakefield Corporation in September, 1938.
As On the Thames, this painting is on view at the Hepworth Wakefield Art Gallery, Wakefield, England (in West Yorkshire). It is the centerpiece of an exhibit called, “James Tissot: Painting the Victorian Woman”, which opened on March 28 and continues through November 3, 2013.
The Convalescent (1875/1876) also was exhibited at the 1876 Royal Academy exhibition. It was offered for sale at Christies in 1881, but returned to the owner when the asking price was not received. It later was owned by Andrew Knowles, from whom it was purchased by the Fine Art Society in January 1949 from Christies for £241 10sh. Museums Sheffield purchased it from the Fine Art Society in June 1949, and it remains in the collection there.
The painting, which measures 30.2 x 39.06 in./76.7 x 99.2 cm., is set in Tissot’s garden at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, London. The model is often assumed to be Kathleen Newton (1854–1882), the young divorcée who entered Tissot’s life in 1875-76, although Tissot scholar Michael Wentworth identified her as a different woman, a professional model Tissot painted in several pictures including Still on Top (c. 1873) and Chrysanthemums (c. 1874-76).
The Convalescent has been exhibited in Japan (1988), Washington (1990), London (1990), Phoenix (1993) and Indianapolis (1993), and most recently, at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield (2005 – 2006).
The painting is currently on loan to The Hepworth Wakefield and is due back at Museums Sheffield in October 2013. Unfortunately, there are no plans for The Convalescent to go back on permanent display.
Incidentally, a different version of the work was sold at Christies in 1879. This may be the replica that measures 13 x 8 in./33.02 x 20.32 cm., sold by Christie’s, London in 1975 for $ 15,286 USD/£ 6,500 GBP [Hammer price] and in 1982 by Christie’s, New York for $ 36,000 USD/£ 21,368 GBP [Hammer price].
One morning in 1979, as staff was arriving at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, a man approached them saying he had a rare and valuable painting by French painter James Tissot that he wished to sell them. When they told the museum director of this claim, he reacted with disbelief and was inclined to send the man away. The painting, worth £ 30,000, was Tissot’s portrait of Mrs. Catherine Smith Gill and Two of her Children (1877). At 60.04 x 39.96 in./152.5 x 101.5 cm., it was one of the largest works the artist ever had produced.
Mrs. Gill’s husband, Mr. Chapple Gill (c.1833 – 1901/2), was the son of Robert Gill, a Liverpool cotton broker of Knotty Cross and R. & C. Gill; the son joined the business in 1857 and had risen to senior partner [by 1880, he became head of the firm]. He commissioned French painter Tissot, then living in London, to paint a portrait of his wife, Catherine Smith Carey (1847-1916), whom he had married on June 10, 1868 at Childwall. She was the only child of Thomas Carey (1809 – c. 1875), a wealthy, retired estate agent. Tissot’s portrait of Catherine Smith Gill shows her – heiress at age 30 – sitting in the drawing-room window of her mother’s home at Lower Lee, at Woolton near Liverpool, which was built by Catherine’s father. Tissot lived at the red sandstone mansion for eight weeks while painting the portrait, in which he depicts Catherine with her two-year-old son Robert Carey and six-year-old daughter Helen; she was to have another boy and two more girls. It is family lore that Tissot and Catherine developed “a mutual affinity,” though Kathleen Newton had been in his life (and resided at his St. John’s Wood home) for the past year or two.
The portrait was purchased, with the aid of contributions from the National Art Collections Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, from Berkeley Chapple Gill, grandson of Mrs. Gill – the son of the little boy in the painting – in 1979, and it remains on view at the Walker Art Gallery. Click here for an interactive view of it.
The Manchester Art Gallery’s collection includes Hush! (The Concert), painted in 1875 and displayed at the Royal Academy exhibition at the height of Tissot’s success in London. It depicts a crowded Kensington salon, hosted by Lord and Lady Coope, which features a performer believed to be Moravian violinst Wilma Neruda (1838—1911). Acquired in 1933, Hush! measures 29.02 x 44.17 in. (73.7 x 112.2 cm). and is on display in the Balcony Gallery.
The Warrior’s Daughter (A Convalescent), c. 1878), relies, as so many of Tissot’s paintings do, on the beauty of model Kathleen Newton. A small picture, it measures only 14 ¼ x 8 11/16 in. (36.2 x 21.8 cm.). Its asking price at the Dudley Gallery, London, in 1879 was £ 125. The Manchester Art Gallery purchased it from the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1925.
The Bridesmaid (c. 1883-85), from Tissot’s “La Femme à Paris” series, was exhibited at the
Arthur Tooth Gallery in London in 1886. It sold at Christie’s in 1889 for £69.5s.0d and was given to the Leeds City Art Gallery by R.R. King in 1897. Paintings in the series were large, and this one, now on display in Room Five, measures 58 x 40 in. (147.3 x 101.6 cm.). According to an 1885 New York Times article, Tissot intended for the vignettes of his “La Femme à Paris” series to be engraved and illustrated by stories, each to be written by a different author. A letter, now in the Boston Public Library’s Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, from Tissot’s old friend, French novelist Alphonse Daudet (1840 – 1897) to French poet and novelist François Coppée (1842 – 1908) asks him to contribute a story based on The Bridesmaid.
I am grateful to the following individuals for providing information from which I compiled this article:
Natalie Patel, Curatorial Intern, Museums Sheffield
Alex Patterson, Assistant Curator (Fine Art), National Museums Liverpool
Theodore Wilkins, Assistant Curator Fine Art, Leeds Art Gallery
© 2013 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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