James Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Kelly Newton, died of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882 and was buried in plot 2903A (register no. 043971) in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, North West London (west of Regent’s Park). [See James Tissot’s garden idyll & Kathleen Newton’s death.] After her funeral on November 14, Tissot returned to Paris after eleven years in England.
Tissot had been friends with Dutch-born painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912) since 1859, when they met as students in Antwerp. Reunited in London, where Alma-Tadema now lived on the north side of the Regent’s Park with his young wife, Laura Epps (1852 – 1909), the two painters had a falling out in the mid-1870s. Through an agent, Alma-Tadema purchased James Tissot’s house at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood by 1883, but he could not move in until he sold his home, Townshend House. After a two-year wait, Lawrence Alma-Tadema moved into Tissot’s former home on July 17, 1885, and began extensive remodeling. He enlarged and modified Tissot’s Queen Anne villa into an Italianate mansion appropriate for his popular (and expensive) paintings of ancient Rome. Alma-Tadema enhanced the garden and colonnaded pool that Tissot had built with huge classical urns and fountains splashing water over exotic fish. He built a Dutch-style studio for Laura, who also painted, and a three-story studio for himself, capped with a semi-circular dome covered in aluminum, which gave a silvery tone to his paintings.
Alma-Tadema painted and renovated his new home while his wife and two daughters lived in Windsor, in the home of a friend who was travelling abroad. His décor included a Japanese room, a Chinese room, and an Arabic room.
In 1886, he spent so much of his time supervising work on the house that he only completed three paintings. His grand home was written up by journalists, who were impressed by his copper-covered entrance, Mexican onyx windows, and a brass stairway (taken for gold by some visitors) leading to his studio. The Pall Mall Gazette called his home “The Palace of the Beautiful.”
His family finally moved in on November 17, 1886, and Alma-Tadema and his wife hosted Monday afternoon open houses and lavish Tuesday evening dinners and concerts for friends such as the Prince and Princess of Wales, the composer Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893), French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), novelist Henry James (1843 – 1916), French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844 – 1923), internationally-acclaimed portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925), Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski (1860 –1941), Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) and Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965).
James Tissot owned the house at Grove End Road only from 1873 to 1882, while Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a Royal Academician, owned it for nearly thirty years, from 1883 until 1912. The house was converted to apartments in the 1920s and fell into disrepair. During World War II, it was occupied by the Army, then bombed and damaged by fire. Tissot’s cast iron colonnade was torn down in 1947 and replaced with garages. The house was later converted into eleven flats, again fell into disrepair, and was listed on English Heritage’s “at risk” register. The Savage family bought it in the mid-1950s and restored it to a single dwelling in 2003 – with an investment of £5 million GBP.
A Grade II listed building since 1987, 44, Grove End Road went on the market in 2006 for £17 million GBP, the same price paid somewhat earlier for a vacant half-acre of land on nearby Avenue Road.
[Grade II listed buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; a listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority.]
When the house went up for sale, The Sunday Times [London] reported:
“It is spread over four floors, relatively few for a property of this size, and the ground and first floors are a sprawling 5,000 square feet per floor. There are seven bedroom suites (with space for en-suite bathrooms and dressing rooms); a three storey-high artist’s studio with enormous windows; five large reception rooms (the main one leading to a conservatory); billiard room; security room; staff living quarters; a kitchen; countless storage rooms and a lift. All the main reception rooms are on the ground floor. All up, it’s 16,000 square feet and, with the garden, measures 0.6 of an acre.”
Though bathrooms and a kitchen were needed, at an estimated cost of £3 to 4 million GBP, a buyer was found. 44, Grove End Road is now the address of a charitable organization, established in 2006, that works in the U.K. and the Arab world, particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
Coincidental to the 2006 sale of James Tissot’s former home was the 2006 sale of Preparing for the gala (c. 1874), painted in Tissot’s garden in St. John’s Wood.
Preparing for the gala, which was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1996 for $1,650,000/ £ 1,090,188, was sold at Christie’s, London in 2006 for $ 2,763,150/£ 1,500,000.
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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).
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