Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tissot in the U.S.: The West

Two of James Tissot’s most fascinating oil paintings are in public collections in California, and another is on loan with an exhibition in Colorado through February, 2014.

You’ll find Tissot’s Self-Portrait (c. 1865) at The California Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco.  Acquired as part of the Mildred Anna Williams Collection in 1961, this self-portrait shows him at 29, ready for – though perhaps wary of – the spectacular success he would earn in Paris during the five years before the Franco-Prussian War broke out.

Self portrait, c.1865 (oil on panel), by James Tissot.   Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA.  Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in "The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot" by Lucy Paquette, © 2012.

Self portrait, c.1865, by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 19 5/8 x 11 7/8 in. (49.8 x 30.2 cm.). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot” by Lucy Paquette, © 2012.

Tissot moved to Paris from the seaport of Nantes in 1856 (before he turned 20 on October 15 of that year), to study art.  He lived in rented rooms in the crowded Latin Quarter and made his début at the Salon in 1859.  By 1865, Tissot was earning 70,000 francs a year, and in 1866 he bought property to build himself a mansion in the avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch), Baron Haussmann’s magnificent new boulevard linking the Place de l’Etoile and the park grounds at the Bois de Boulogne.  He furnished it in lavish Second Empire taste, forming a collection of Chinese and Japanese art for which he became renowned, and which he featured in many of his paintings.

Tissot, in contrast to his friends Degas, Whistler and Manet, had found acceptance in a circle beyond the Salon, the critics, or intellectual rebels:  he had found an entrée to the French aristocracy and was commissioned to paint The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their children [René de Cassagne de Beaufort, marquis de Miramon (1835-1882), his wife, née Thérèse Feuillant (1836-1912), and their first two children, Geneviève and Léon on the terrace of the château de Paulhac in Auvergne].  Tissot depicted them outdoors, as an informal, affectionate family, in 1865.  This painting, now at the Musée d’Orsay, served as his calling card to the lucrative market for Society portraiture.

Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant (1866), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, unframed: 128.3 x 77.2 cm. (50 1/2 x 30 3/8 in.). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

By 1866, Tissot’s oil portraits included dapper, upper-class gentlemen, attractive and well-dressed ladies of leisure, and a wealthy-looking boy of 12 or so wearing knee breeches and red and white diced Scottish hose.  Most stunning was his Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant (1866), in her husband’s castle, the château de Paulhac in Auvergne.  Tissot depicts the 30-year-old Marquise wearing a pink velvet peignoir, leaning on the mantel in her sitting room with a stylish Japanese screen behind her.  The portrait is on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, California, which acquired the picture from the family in 2007.  Alongside is displayed a sample of the pink silk velvet used in the Marquise’s peignoir, produced with a modern aniline dye.  Her descendants kept this piece of fabric, as well as the letter that Tissot wrote to her husband, who had commissioned the portrait, asking permission to display it at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition.  Permission was granted, and this private image was seen by the public for the first time – the only time, until the Getty purchased it.

I saw this painting when it was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the blockbuster exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.”  It’s gorgeous – the photograph doesn’t do it justice.

Young Ladies Admiring Japanese Objects (1869), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 22 by 15 in. (55.88 by 38.10 cm). (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Another of Tissot’s most lovely paintings, Young Ladies Admiring Japanese Objects (1869), has been on loan to the Getty Museum from a private collection since about 2012.

The Fan (1875), by James Tissot. 15 x 19 in. (38.10 x 48.26 cm.) Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo Wikimedia.org)

At the end of the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune, Tissot fled to London, where he quickly rebuilt his successful career.  The Fan (1875) simultaneously demonstrates Tissot’s facility depicting plant life, fashion, female beauty and japonisme.  It was sold by Sotheby’s, London in 1982 for $ 73,974/£ 42,000 to Charles Jerdein (1916 – 1999), a thoroughbred trainer who later concentrated on his business as an art dealer in London.  Jerdein sold The Fan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut shortly after he purchased it; the Wadsworth was able to acquire it due to the generosity of The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund.  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, through 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.

Study for Foreign Visitors at the Louvre (Visiteurs étrangers au Louvre, oil on panel, 14 1/4 by 10 3/8 in./36.3 by 26.4 cm, c. 1880), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 14 1/4 by 10 3/8 in./36.3 by 26.4 cm. Private collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

The most recent Tissot oil to enter a collection in the western U.S. is Foreign Visitors at the Louvre (c. 1880, oil on canvas, 29 by 19.5 in.).  Made after Tissot’s 1879 visit to the Louvre in Paris with Kathleen Newton, the 25-year-old divorcée and mother who became his mistress and muse in London, it was donated to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California by the estate of Barbara Darlington Dupee in 2013.

Related posts:

Ready and waiting: Tissot’s entrée, 1865

In a class by himself: Tissot beyond the competition, 1866

A spotlight on Tissot at the Met’s “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity”

Tissot in the U.S.: New England

© Copyright Lucy Paquette 2013.  All rights reserved.

CH377762The 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).  See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.

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Was Cecil Newton James Tissot’s son?

Was James Tissot the father of Kathleen Newton’s son, Cecil George Newton, born in 1876?  It’s an interesting question, and to my knowledge, there is no documentation.  It is widely speculated that Tissot was Cecil’s father.  In the past four years that I’ve been researching Tissot, various online sources (art gallery biographies of Tissot, Wikipedia, art websites and blogs, etc.) once stated that Cecil “may have been” Tissot’s son, then that he “is believed” to be Tissot’s son or was “presumably his” – and increasingly, many now state that “it is generally accepted that Cecil is Tissot’s son” – but they cite no sources.  To date, I have seen no evidence proving that this is a fact.

A Little Nimrod (1882), by James Tissot. Private Collection. (Photo: wikimedia.org)

My research into a range of scholarly sources, and the facts on inheritance law in France during Tissot’s lifetime, lead to me conclude that Tissot was not Cecil’s father.

What is known is that Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly married Dr. Isaac Newton on January 3, 1871, at age 17.  Her daughter, Violet Newton*, was born on December 20, 1871, whether the daughter of her husband or the man – Captain Palliser – over whom her husband divorced her within days of their marriage (the decree nisi was issued on December 30, 1871).  The focus of mystery is Kathleen’s second child, Cecil George Newton, born March 21, 1876; she registered his father as Dr. Isaac Newton.

Tissot went to Venice on holiday in early October, 1875 with Édouard and Suzanne Manet for several weeks.  If he had fathered Cecil, it would have been by the end of June, leaving Kathleen Newton for Venice in the second trimester of her pregnancy; he returned by mid-November.  The date that they began living together, supposed to be around 1876, coincides with this pregnancy and Cecil’s birth, but that in and of itself is not proof that Cecil’s father was James Tissot.

The first and only definitive assertion on the subject of Cecil Newton’s paternity is contained in a review (Art Journal, Vol. 45 No. 1, Spring 1985) of Michael Wentworth’s book, James Tissot, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.  The reviewer, Willard E. Misfeldt (a professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University, Ohio from 1967 to 2001), states, “As for Mrs. Newton’s second child, Cecil George, who was born in March 1876, more recent intelligence seems to settle positively the question of whether Tissot was his father.”  The footnote cites “Family oral tradition communicated directly to this reviewer.”

Misfeldt writes, “This would mean that Tissot and Kathleen met no later than June 1875, and probably earlier.”  He adds, “That Cecil and his sister occasionally visited Tissot in Paris [after the 1882 death of Kathleen Newton], as is stated, is probably accurate.  The family preserves the story, however, that on one occasion when Tissot returned to London, Cecil refused to see him because he felt that he had been abandoned by his father.”  This also is footnoted, “Family oral tradition communicated directly to this reviewer.”

Still, it is prudent to consider David S. Brooke’s assertion in his article, “James Tissot and the ‘Ravissante Irlandaise,’ ” (Connisseur, May 1968).  Regarding information provided by Kathleen Newton’s niece, Lilian Hervey (1875 – 1952), as an adult sharing her childhood memories, Brooke (who served as the director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts from 1977 to 1994) writes:  “some of her observations on her aunt’s earlier life should be read with caution, since she was presumably given a suitable version of it by her elders.”

Brooke’s article also states:  “Kathleen’s movements between December, 1871, and March, 1876, when she registered the birth of another child, Cecil George, giving Isaac Newton as the father, are not known [my italics].  In March, 1876, she was apparently living with her elder sister, Mary Hervey, at 6 Hill Road, St. John’s Wood, London, not far from Tissot’s house in Grove End Road.  It is uncertain when Tissot met Kathleen Newton, or whether he was the father of Cecil George.  She probably went to live with him about 1876-77.”

Study for “Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool” (c. 1877-78). Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA.

Study for “Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool” (c. 1877-78). Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA.

The article continues, “Tissot was clearly grief-stricken by Kathleen’s death [of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882], and according to Miss Hervey, he draped her coffin with purple velvet and prayed beside it for hours.  Leaving for Paris a few days later, he apparently abandoned the house and its contents.  According to a visitor at the time, his paints, brushes and several untouched canvases were still in the studio, and in the garden the old gardener was burning the mattress from the bed of the mysterious lady.”  [Tissot left for Paris after the November 14 funeral.  His elegant house at 17 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood – now numbered 44, and renovated – sat empty until Lawrence Alma-Tadema purchased it in 1883.]

Brooke, at the end of this article, acknowledged the assistance of the following individuals:  “Mrs. Erica Newton, for her research, and to Miss Marita Ross, for allowing me to reproduce the photographs of Tissot and Kathleen Newton.  I am also indebted to Michael Wentworth, Willard Misfeldt (who is preparing a dissertation on Tissot), and Mrs. Erica Garbutt for their assistance.”

Willard Misfelt, in his 1971 doctoral dissertation on James Tissot, details the circumstances of Cecil Newton’s birth at 6 Hill Road, the home of Kathleen’s sister, Mrs. Mary Pauline Hervey (1851/52 – 1896).  They lived just around the corner from Tissot’s large house at Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, London.  Mrs. Hervey (whose husband was said to be in the Indian army) had only lived at this address since “1876 or very late 1875,” according to Misfeldt:  “If Tissot was the actual father of Mrs. Newton’s second child (she registered the father as the man who had divorced her five years earlier) the meeting would have taken place no later than June, 1875, and presumably earlier, at which time Mrs. Hervey and her entourage were nowhere near St. John’s Wood.”  However, between the date of this dissertation and his 1985 review of Wentworth’s book on Tissot, Misfeldt learned of the “family oral tradition” that Cecil Newton was Kathleen’s son.

Other sources I consulted include:

  • Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, ed., James Tissot (Barbican Art Gallery/Abbeville Press:  New York, 1985)

Among the contributors to this collection of essays by Tissot experts is Lady Jane Abdy (b. 1934, the director of the Bury Street Gallery in South Kensington, London, since 1991).  Lady Abdy writes, “A child was born in 1876, Cecil George, and we do not know whether it was Tissot’s, though in the tender way he depicted him in many portraits it seems probable.”  She adds, “Mrs. Newton’s two children lived with Mrs. Hervey; they were visitors to Grove End Road, not inhabitants, and their visits usually occurred at the hour of tea.” 

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot.

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” by Lucy Paquette © 2012.

  • Christopher Wood, Tissot:  The Life and Work of Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902 (Little, Brown:  Boston, 1986)

In this work, Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009), director of Nineteenth Century Paintings at Christie’s, London from 1963 to 1976 and then an art dealer at the forefront of the revival in interest of Victorian art in the late 20th century with his gallery in Belgravia, stated that he did not believe Tissot was Cecil George Newton’s father.  He pointed out that Tissot left his estate to his French niece, though under French law he could have adopted an illegitimate son and left him his property.  Wood also argued that, like British painter Frederick Sandys (1829 – 1904) – who married a working class girl – Tissot could have married Kathleen and legitimized Cecil – if Cecil were his son.  But then, it is possible that Kathleen Newton, as a divorced Catholic in that era, may not have felt able to remarry.

Uncle Fred (c. 1879-1880), by James Tissot. Private Collection. (Photo: wikipaintings.org) [A depiction of Kathleen Newton’s niece, Lilian Hervey, with a man thought to be Kathleen’s brother, Frederick.]

  •  Jeffrey Meyers, Impressionist Quartet:  The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt (Harcourt, Inc.:  Orlando, Florida, 2005)

Distinguished biographer Jeffrey Meyers put the issue of French law succinctly in this book, in a discussion of Édouard Manet and Léon Leenhoff – the young man raised by him and his wife as her “brother” and Manet’s godson:

“The Manet scholar Susan Locke noted that there was a good reason why Manet did not legitimize Léon:  “in French law of the time, whereas nothing stood in the way of legitimization of children born out of wedlock upon the marriage of their parents, children born to individuals who were already married to others at the time of conception could never be legitimized under any circumstances.”  In other words, Manet could have legitimized Léon if Léon were his own son.  But he couldn’t, and didn’t, since Léon’s father was a married man.”  [In Manet’s case, it is believed by some scholars that Manet’s father also was Léon’s father.]

By 1991, when Willard E. Misfeldt’s J.J. Tissot:  Prints from the Gotlieb Collection was published (Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia), Misfeldt wrote:

“Writers on Tissot have ‘fudged’ the question of Cecil’s paternity.  Christopher Wood states outright that he does not believe Tissot was Cecil’s father.  Georges Bastard [author of a 1906 biographical article on Tissot] asserts that Tissot and Kathleen shared a life of Love and Art for seven years, which would indicate that they met in 1875, some time before Cecil was born.  It seems unlikely that Tissot would invite a woman pregnant with another man’s child to take part in his life.  Perhaps the question can never be resolved, but the prominence that Tissot gave the child in these last two major paintings from London [The Garden Bench, 1882; The Little Nimrod, 1882] would seem to lend credence to the theory that Cecil really was the artist’s natural son.”  A footnote reads, “Cecil kept up contact with Tissot and occasionally sent the artist souvenirs of his life in the theater.”

The Garden Bench (1882), by James Tissot. Private Collection. (Photo: wikipaintings.org)

I find it hard to believe that Tissot, in moving back to Paris upon Kathleen Newton’s death, would have abandoned his own son – his only son as well as his only child, and the child of the love of his life.  Cecil [if legitimized] stood to inherit the family name with a château in Besançon, France in the family for two generations as well as an elegant villa at 64, avenue du Bois du Boulogne [originally called the avenue de l’Impératrice, now avenue Foch], one of the most exclusive addresses in Paris.

Based on my extensive research, James Tissot seems to have been a decent man who was kind to Kathleen’s daughter and son in the years the couple spent together.  He painted Violet and Cecil as the adorable children they were – just as Millais, Renoir and other artists of the time painted numerous images of adorable children.  In The Garden Bench, the mischievous boy (with his bold, direct gaze at the viewer) is highlighted, the center of his  proud and indulgent mother’s attention, while the affectionate girls are relegated to the background, portrayed as demure and passive – all in keeping with the era’s assigned gender roles.  Tissot kept The Garden Bench, hung in the central stair hall of his château for the rest of his life, as a reminder of his happy days of family life in London.  There is no record of whether, or how often, Tissot exerted himself to keep in contact with Cecil Newton – but we do know what his Will, drawn up in January, 1898, provided upon his death in 1902.

Français : James Tissot

While dividing his assets between the three surviving adult children of his eldest brother, James Tissot’s Will stipulated that each of Kathleen Newton’s two children (whose addresses were located by a servant) would receive 1,000 francs.  Tissot’s servants were provided for more generously:  each received 200 francs per year in his service, employment with full wages for a period of one year after his death, plus 1,000 francs.

Misfeldt reports this information in his 1971 doctoral thesis on Tissot, conjecturing that “equal sums for the two [children of Kathleen Newton] might have seemed the best way to avoid arousing any embarrassing suspicions concerning two children who were by then young adults.”

Cecil married at 28, two years after Tissot died, and served in the Royal Artillery during World War I under the name Cecil Ashburnham.  He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1915 and was discharged as an invalided officer less than a year later.  He was divorced at age 48, and died as Cecil Ashburnham on May 4, 1941, at 21, First Avenue, Lancing (a town on the English Channel, near Brighton).  Cecil left no Will, but his estate, valued for probate at £108.12s.6d, was administered by George Ashburnham Newton, of Llandudno, a seaside town in Wales. 

With no conclusive evidence, I decided that it was as plausible that Cecil was not Tissot’s son as that he was, and I developed the story line for The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot accordingly as I continued my research.

As with any of the mysteries surrounding the fascinating life of James Tissot, I would be pleased to see facts emerge that prove one theory or another; I was trained as an art historian.  As a novelist, I chose to portray the facts on this subject according to my best information at the time.  To see how I reconciled the question of Cecil’s paternity, read The Hammock.

Kathleen Newton at the Piano (c. 1881), by James Tissot. Private Collection. (Photo: wikipaintings.org)

* Muriel Violet Mary Newton, born on December 20, 1871 in Conisbrough (a town in South Yorkshire where Kathleen Newton’s father had retired from the East India Company), attended Pensionnat de Soeurs de la Providence et de l’Immaculée Conception at Champion-lez-Namur, Belgium.  She married William Henry Bishop on October 19, 1925 in London and died of a heart attack on December 28, 1933 at the Hotel Cristina in Alcegiras, Spain.  She is buried in Spain.

For biographical information on Kathleen, Isaac, Violet & Cecil Newton, see Willard E. Misfeldt’s J.J. Tissot:  Prints from the Gotlieb Collection (Art Services International:  Alexandria, Virginia, 1991).

© 2013 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you may download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones, tablets, and the Kindle Cloud Reader to read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.  Read reviews.

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).    See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.

For sale: In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot

On Monday, October 28, 2013, a masterpiece by French painter James Tissot will be sold at Christie’s fall sale of 19th Century European Art in New York.

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot.  Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 20 1/8 in./38.4 x 51.1 cm.  (Photo courtesy of www.jamestissot.org)

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 20 1/8 in./38.4 x 51.1 cm. (Photo courtesy of http://www.jamestissot.org)

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875 (oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 20 1/8 in./38.4 x 51.1 cm.) is being deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The painting was donated to the Met in 2009 by socialite, philanthropist and fine arts collector Mrs. Jayne Wrightsman (b. 1919), widow of oil executive Charles B. Wrightsman (1895–1986).  In the four years that In the Conservatory (Rivals) has been in the Met’s collection, it has not been exhibited – inexplicably, it was not even included in the blockbuster exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” which debuted at the Musée d’Orsay from September 25, 2012 to January 20, 2013, travelled to the Met from February 26 to May 27, 2013, and made its finale at the Art institute of Chicago from June 26 to September 29.

Mrs. Wrightsman, now an emeritus trustee of the Met, donated three other Tissot oils to the museum:

Tea (1872), oil on wood, 26 x 18 7/8 in./66 x 47.9 cm., gifted in 1998

En Plein Soleil (c. 1881), oil on wood, 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in./24.8 x 35.2 cm., gifted in 2006

Spring Morning (c. 1875), oil on canvas, 22 x 16 3/4 in./55.9 x 42.5 cm., gifted in 2009

Of the four Tissot paintings that Mrs. Wrightsman donated, only In the Conservatory (Rivals) can be considered a major work, and it is considered a highlight of the Christie’s sale on October 28.

A little background:  Charles B. Wrightsman, president of Standard Oil of Kansas and a tournament polo player, married his second wife, Jayne Larkin from Flint, Michigan, in 1944.  The couple began collecting fine art in 1952, and Mr. Wrightsman was elected to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees in 1956.  In 1961, the Wrightsmans’ collection was described by The New York Times as “one of the most important private collections in the world.”  In addition to paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Johannes Vermeer, it included ”one of the finest collections of Louis XV furniture in the country,” according to The Times.

At a London auction in 1961, Mr. Wrightsman paid $392,000 for a 20 x 25 inch portrait of the first Duke of Wellington, attributed to Francisco Goya.  The possibility that the painting would be removed from England created a storm of protest.  Mr. Wrightsman offered to sell the painting to London’s National Gallery at cost, and the museum accepted.  [Two weeks after that purchase, the painting was stolen from the head of the gallery’s main staircase.  It was recovered in 1965.]

Upon his retirement in 1975, Charles Wrightsman was made Trustee Emeritus, a position he held until his death at age 90.  In 1975, Jayne Wrightsman was elected to the Board of Trustees.

Mr. and Mrs. Wrightsman made many gifts that enriched the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the eight Wrightsman Rooms, furnished and decorated in the style of 18th-century France, and three galleries for exhibiting furnishings and art objects from the same period.  These galleries opened to the public between 1969 and 1977.

Among the paintings that the Wrightsmans gave to the museum in 1977 were works by Jacques-Louis David, Nicholas Poussin and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

When it was learned in 1977 that the couple had purchased David’s Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife for the museum at a cost of about $4 million, Mr. Wrightsman stated, ”Mrs. Wrightsman and I lead a very quiet life and we try to avoid publicity.”

But early in 1978, in a widely publicized acquisition, the Wrightsmans bought a painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, a self-portrait with his wife and son, for a price believed at the time to be between $3 million and $4 million.  Purchased from the collection of Baron Guy de Rothschild in Paris, the painting was described by an official of the Metropolitan Museum as ”the greatest Rubens in this country.”  The Wrightsmans gave the Rubens to the Met in 1981.

In May 1979 the Wrightsmans gave the Met two exceptional Old Masters paintings:  The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco and The Penitent Magdalen by Georges de La Tour.  The museum’s director said of the donors, ”They set the highest possible standards of excellence for all acquisitions, a goal to be reached for even if rarely to be obtained.  Our debt to the Wrightsmans is, once again, beyond measure.”

That year, they also donated Vermeer’s Portrait of a Young Woman (also known as Study of a Young Woman, or Girl with a Veil), c. 1666-67.  One of only twenty-four Vermeers in the world, the Wrightsmans bought it from the Prince d’Arenberg for an estimated £400,000.

Jayne Wrightsman, a close friend of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who served as the First Lady’s mentor during the 1961-63 restoration of the White House, is considered the grande dame of New York society and one of the great art collectors and museum patronesses of the 20th century.  “As a collector, she’s very high up in the pantheon,” said banker Jacob Rothschild, a close friend, in a January 2003 Vanity Fair article. “She has given her life to the Met.”

Regardless, it is “rare to see a work sold only three years after its acquisition,” observes La Tribune de l’ Art, an independent French source of art history news in an October 3, 2013 article [La Tribune had announced the Met’s acquisition of Tissot’s In the Conservatory (Rivals) on June 16, 2010]. It is clear that the donor has agreed to the sale but it probably would have been more logical to avoid this little passage through the Met, unless we should see in this round trip a desire to increase the value of the canvas by a prestigious provenance.  But is it really the role of museums, even in America, to become art dealers in this way?”  The article notes that the selling price of this Tissot painting (estimated at $2,500,000-3,500,000) “is a drop in the acquisition budget of the Metropolitan Museum.”

New York-based journalist Judith H. Dobrzynski recently wrote about the Met’s deaccessioning of In the Conservatory (Rivals):

“Using the Met’s website, I could not find an image, let alone an exhibition history there.  But the Christie’s catalogue says the gift came in 2009, and the last exhibition it cites was in 1955.  Still, I am a bit surprised at this sale.  Tissot is no genius, but what he did, he usually did well — and this painting, in the slide, looks worth exhibiting to me.”

Interest in – and appreciation for – Tissot’s work dramatically increased in the U.S. with the inclusion of a dozen of his most memorable images (thanks to the insistence of curator Gloria Groom) in “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” in New York and Chicago.  You can see this reflected all over social media.  The Met enjoyed the fruits of the turnout, but could potentially shut the public out in the sale on October 28.

It is partly because some of Tissot’s most beautiful works have only recently been acquired by art museums that the public has had the opportunity to learn about and appreciate him.  The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their Children was acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in 2006, and the “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” show is the first time it’s been exhibited anywhere else since 1866.  The Musée d’Orsay acquired The Circle of the Rue Royale in 2011 from the descendants of one of the sitters.

Meanwhile, Gloria Groom – who conceived the “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” exhibition and organized it with the Metropolitan Museum and the Musée d’Orsay – and who has newly been promoted to the Chicago Art Institute’s first “senior curator” position, recently noted that the Art Institute doesn’t own a single painting by James Tissot.  “Maybe now,” she said in an  August 19, 2013 article article in the Chicago Reader, “we can do something about that.”

Perhaps the Getty Museum in Los Angeles will purchase In the Conservatory (Rivals), after purchasing Tissot’s Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant from her descendants in 2007.  Until the Getty exhibited this gorgeous portrait, it hadn’t been displayed in public since the 1867 Paris International Exhibition.

Or perhaps a smaller, well-funded art museum would find In the Conservatory (Rivals) a welcome addition to its permanent collection.

Algernon Moses Marsden (1877), by James Tissot. Private collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Conservatory (Rivals) has an illustrious enough provenance without the enhancement of four years in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is thought to have been sold by London art dealer Algernon Moses Marsden [1848-1920, see Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?]:  it was owned by Kaye Knowles, Esq., London, (1835-1886), a banker whose vast wealth came from shares in his family’s Lancashire coal mining business, Andrew Knowles and Sons.  Kaye Knowles, who owned three other oil paintings by Tissot, was a client of Marsden’s.  After Knowles’ sudden death, In the Conservatory (Rivals) was sold with his estate as Afternoon Tea by Christie’s, London, on May 14, 1887.  William Agnew (1825 – 1910), the most influential art dealer in London – who represented Tissot for a time during the 1870s – bought the painting at this sale for 50 guineas and passed it to one of Kaye’s executors, his brother, Andrew Knowles, on May 16, 1887.  It passed to Robert Knowles – probably their younger brother – and was owned by Mrs. Mary Grant by 1936 to at least 1955.  From then, it was in the possession of J. E. Grant, Esq. and Mrs. P. M. Mackay Scobie until 1981, and they sold it – as Rivals – at Christie’s, London, on October 16, 1981 for $ 109,848/£ 60,000.  It was purchased by the Richard Green Gallery, London, and sold to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York, in 1981.  Upon Mr. Wrightsman’s death in 1986, Rivals became the sole property of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, who gifted to it the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009.

As the Christie’s sale catalogue emphasizes, Tissot’s In the Conservatory (Rivals) has not been on the market in over three decades.

May the Met’s loss be a gain for an institution that values this work, and for Tissot fans
worldwide who would appreciate its inclusion in a public collection.

Note:  On October 28, 2013, In the Conservatory (Rivals) sold for $1,700,000 (Hammer price; total with Buyer’s Premium was $2,045,000 USD/£ 1,270,817 GBP).  There is no indication it was purchased for a public collection.

Related posts:

Tissot vs. Whistler, Degas, Manet & Morisot oils at auction

James Tissot oils at auction: Seven favorites

Kathleen Newton by James Tissot: eight auctioned oil paintings

A spotlight on Tissot at the Met’s “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity”

Tissot in the Conservatory

Video:  “The Strange Career of James Tissot”  (2:33 min.)

© 2013 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

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