New England boasts five major works by James Tissot, painted between 1872 and 1885.
In the mid- to late 1860s, while Tissot enjoyed ever-increasing success and fame, France was enjoying its final years of giddy prosperity under the Second Empire. Paris had been transformed by Napoleon III’s majestic and “revolution-proof” modernizations. The economy was booming as overcrowded medieval buildings were demolished, hills were leveled, bridges were constructed, and narrow, tangled streets were replaced with straight, broad tree-lined avenues extending to the western suburbs which had been cabbage fields.
The population of Paris had almost doubled since 1850 and was nearing two million. Railways now branched out from the city, reaching into the outlying regions and making it an industrial center. Trains also encircled the city, so that the main railroad stations were conveniently connected within the old fortified wall around the capital. Parisians flaunted their wealth, and conspicuous consumption was the order of the day. With 15,000 gaslights glittering on the streets, Paris became “The City of Light.” [See Paris c. 1865: The Giddy Life of Second Empire France]
Meanwhile, in London, Victorian engineers – led by John Everett Millais’ friend, the self-made millionaire John Fowler (1817 – 1898) – constructed the first underground railway in the world. The Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line) – a stretch of four miles between Bishop’s Road (now Paddington) and Farringdon – opened on January 10, 1863. At the Paddington end there was a connection to the Great Western Railway. In 1864, the line was extended to Hammersmith Station, which was operated jointly by the Metropolitan Railway and the Great Western. The line was extended east to Moorgate in 1865, and in the other direction, to South Kensington in 1868. On Christmas Eve 1868, the District Railway’s first section opened between South Kensington and Westminster Bridge. This line was extended to Blackfriars in 1870 and to Mansion House in 1871 (completing the southern section of the Circle Line). St. John’s Wood Railway (referred to as “the Wood Line,” “the branch,” or “the extension”), running northward from Baker Street to St. John’s Wood Road and Swiss Cottage, opened in 1868. The engines were steam-operated; the first “tube” railway, cable-operated and running between Tower Hill and Bermondsey, opened in 1870. All the locomotives built from 1871 were painted a smart olive green with polished brass dome covers and were lit by gas. The passenger coaches were divided into first, second and third class compartments; first-class cars were roomy and fitted with carpets, mirrors and well-upholstered seats.
In late May or early June, 1871, James Tissot fled Paris in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and the bloody Commune.
He established himself in the competitive London art market, and by March 1872 (and until 1873), he lived at 73 Springfield Road in St. John’s Wood, conveniently near the new Underground Railway station there.
His 1872 image of the modern commuter, Gentleman in a Railway Carriage [24 15/16 by 16 15/16 in. (63.30 by 43.00 cm)], was purchased for the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts by the Alexander and Caroline Murdock de Witt Fund nearly one hundred years later, in 1965, and is currently on view, though the original gilt frame with pilasters and arched top was replaced.
In 1873, James Tissot bought the lease on a medium-sized, two-storey Queen Anne-style villa, built of red brick with white Portland stone dressing, at 17 (now 44), Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood. In 1875, he built an extension with a studio and conservatory that doubled the size of the house. Outside the conservatory (note the panes of glass in the upper left corner), Tissot painted Chrysanthemums. He displayed it along with nine other canvases at the first exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street in 1877. The Grosvenor was an alternative to the conservative Royal Academy of Art, which never did extend membership to Tissot.
Chrysanthemums (c. 1874-76) was purchased by British cotton magnate, MP and contemporary art collector Edward Hermon (1822 – 1881) by 1877. Hermon eventually owned over 70 paintings, including works by J.M.W. Turner, Edwin Landseer, and John Everett Millais, which he displayed in the picture gallery of his magnificent French Gothic estate, Wyfold Court, built at Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire between 1872 and 1878. In 1882, after Hermon’s death, Chrysanthemums was sold at Christie’s, London to prominent art dealer Arthur Tooth for £ 273.
The painting next belonged to Surgeon-Major (the ranking surgeon of a regiment in the British Army) John Ewart Martin, South Africa and remained in a private collection of his descendants in South Africa until it was sold at Phillips, London,1993, to the Christopher Wood Gallery, London, for $ 372,125/£ 250,000. The painting was sold by that gallery to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1994. It is currently touring the world as part of the travelling exhibition, “Great French Paintings from the Clark.” Since Spring, 2011, Tissot’s painting has been seen in Milan, Italy; Giverny, France; Barcelona, Spain; Fort Worth, Texas; London, England; Montréal, Canada; and Tokyo, Japan. The exhibition is at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan, through September 1, 2013, and it will then travel to its final destination, the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, from September 19 to December 1, 2013. Chrysanthemums should return to the Clark in July, 2014.
The Fan (1875) simultaneously demonstrates Tissot’s facility depicting plant life, fashion, female beauty and japonisme. It was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1982 for $ 73,974/£ 42,000 to Charles Jerdein (1916 – 1999). Jerdein was the trainer who officially received the credit when thoroughbred Gilles de Retz landed the 2,000 Guineas in 1956; the Jockey Club did not recognize the female trainer, Helen Johnson-Houghton. Jerdein left Mrs. Johnson-Houghton’s operation that year, trained on his own for a short time, then concentrated on his business as an art dealer in London, though he occasionally had a horse in training in Newmarket. By 1963, Jerdein had pioneered the market for paintings by James Tissot’s friend, the Dutch-born Victorian painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), before Alma-Tadema’s name became associated with the American television personality who collected his work, Allen Funt of “Candid Camera.”
Charles Jerdein sold The Fan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut shortly after he purchased it in 1982; the Wadsworth was able to acquire it due to the generosity of The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund.
I made a pilgrimage to the Wadsworth to see this elegant painting on October 3 and was very disappointed to learn that, despite my efforts to confirm the painting was on display, it had been on loan for some time: the Wadsworth is renovating its permanent collection galleries. From March 23 to September 8, 2013, The Fan had been in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s “Old Masters to Monet” exhibition, one of fifty master works of French art spanning three centuries from the Wadsworth’s collection. The show sold more than 50,000 tickets. Next, The Fan will be on display at the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition, “Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum,” in the Hamilton Building, Level 2, from October 27, 2013 to February 9, 2014. The exhibition will include furnishings from the Denver Art Museum’s collection and costumes on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Immediately after Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton, died in London of tuberculosis in November, 1882, Tissot abandoned his St. John’s Wood home and moved back to Paris, which he had left following the bloody aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Having been absent from Paris for over eleven years, Tissot exerted himself to re-establish his reputation there with a series of fifteen large-scale paintings called “La Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris). He painted these large works between 1883 and 1885, illustrating the fashionable parisienne in various incarnations using brighter, modern colors than he had in his previous work.
Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (1885) is one in this series. The setting for this picture is the Molier Circus in Paris, a “high-life circus” in which the amateur performers were members of the aristocracy. The man on the trapeze wearing red is the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, one of the oldest titles of the French nobility; he was said to have “the biceps of Hercules.” People of beauty and fashion attended the circus and mingled with the performers during the interval.
The Circus Lover (1885) was sold by Gerald M. Fitzgerald at Christie’s, London in mid-1957 to the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery for $ 3,219 USD/£ 1,150 GBP. In early 1958, The Circus Lover was purchased from the Marlborough Fine Art by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts for $ 5,000 as Amateur Circus.
Women of Paris: The Circus Lover is included in the Art Institute of Chicago’s blockbuster exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity”, which runs through Sunday, September 29.
Another painting in Tissot’s “La Femme à Paris” is in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum in Providence.
The Ladies of the Chariots (Ces dames des chars), also called The Circus, was exhibited in Paris in 1885 and in London in 1886. It is the second in the “La Femme à Paris” series, painted sometime before mid-1884.
The women are performers at the Hippodrome de l’Alma, built in 1877 at the corner of avenues Josephine and Alma. Up to eight thousand spectators could view races around the thirteen-meter track, circus animals whose cages were beneath the ring, and special effects such as mist and fireworks in the grand arena with a sliding roof that could be opened to the sky. Electric lighting made evening performances possible, such as the chariot race pictured, with charioteers known as Amazons wearing glittering costumes. Their diadems are similar to the crown on Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s new statue, Liberty Illuminating the World, which was presented to the United States in a ceremony in Paris on July 4, 1884; it soon would be installed in New York Harbor.
Tissot’s “La Femme à Paris” series was poorly received when it was exhibited in 1885 at the Sedelmeyer Gallery in Paris and in 1886 at the Arthur Tooth Gallery in London. A critic for La Vie Parisienne complained that the women in the series were “always the same Englishwoman” – some say the faces all resembled Kathleen Newton. Another reviewer dismissed Tissot’s modern urban women as “gracious puppets.” Some found both the poses and compositions awkward and disconcerting.
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. The Ladies of the Chariots was assigned to French poet and writer Théodore de Banville (1823 – 1891), but no such text by him exists. Only the first five of Tissot’s series were etched, among them The Ladies of the Chariots. The project ended in 1886 with Tissot’s ambition to illustrate the Bible. He never painted from modern life again.
The Ladies of the Chariots, which measures 57 ½ by 39 5/8 in. (146 by 100.65 cm), was sold by Julius H. Weitzner (1896 – 1986), a leading dealer in Old Master paintings in New York and London, to Walter Lowry, who gifted it to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1958.
Now hanging in the RISD museum director’s office, The Ladies of the Chariots will be the centerpiece of an exhibition on the circus scheduled to open in August 2014.
The RISD Museum collection includes three other oil paintings by James Tissot, one of which is on view to the public. The Dance of Death (1860) is one of Tissot’s earliest paintings, a medieval dance of death exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1861 as Voie des fleurs, voie des pleurs (Path of Flowers, Way of Tears). Tissot offered this to a collector at what he considered a low price of 5,000 francs. In a private collection in Philadelphia until it was purchased from Julius Weitzner by the RISD in 1954, it measures 14 5/8 by 48 3/16 by 1 1/2 in. (37.1 by 122.4 by 3.8 cm). It is on display on the West Wall of the Grand Gallery. Vincent van Gogh was familiar with this painting, as he mentioned it in an 1883 letter to his younger brother Theo, an art dealer.
In the collection but not on public display are Tissot’s The Two Friends (c. 1881) and In the Louvre (c. 1883-85).
I am grateful to the following individuals for providing information from which I compiled this article:
Teresa O’Toole, Curatorial Coordinator, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Edward G. Russo, Head Registrar, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
Maureen O’Brien, Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Alison Chang, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence
© 2013 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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