New York, New York! It has everything – except paintings by James Tissot that you can see.
Those who attended the blockbuster exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 26 – May 27, 2013, would never have guessed that from the dozen gorgeous Tissot oil paintings on view. But they were loans from other museums.
The Met actually owns three oil paintings by James Tissot, all gifts of socialite, philanthropist
and fine arts collector Mrs. Charles Wrightsman (b. 1919), but they were not included in “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” and they are not currently on display.
Tea (1872), oil on wood, 26 x 18 7/8 in. (66 x 47.9 cm.), was one of Tissot’s eighteenth-century paintings calculated to appeal to British collectors once he had moved to London in mid-1871, following the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune. Tea was in a private collection in Rome, Italy in 1968. It was with Somerville & Simpson, Ltd., London, by 1979-81, when it was consigned to Mathiessen Fine Art Ltd., London. It was purchased from Mathiessen by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York. Upon Mr. Wrightsman’s death in 1986, Mrs. Wrightsman owned it until 1998, when she gifted it to the Met.
En plein soleil (c. 1881), oil on wood, 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (24.8 x 35.2 cm.) depicts
Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854–1882) in the left hand corner, and was painted in the garden of his large home at 44, Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, London. En plein soleil was with Lenz Fine Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. until 1976, when it was sold to Williams and Son, London. That firm sold to the painting to Stair Sainty Gallery, London, from whom it was purchased in 1976 by Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol (1915 – 1985), London. In 1983, the Marquess sold it back to Stair Sainty, where it was purchased that year by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York. Mrs. Charles Wrightsman kept the picture until 2006, when she gifted it to the Met.
Spring Morning (c. 1875) oil on canvas, 22 x 16 3/4 in. (55.9 x 42.5 cm), was in the possession of Thomas McLean, London, until about 1901; at some point after that, it was with Goupil, London. It was sold by Sotheby’s Belgravia, London, on March 23, 1981, as Matinée de printemps, for £40,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York. Mrs. Wrightsman gifted it to the Met in 2009.
The Met owned a fourth Tissot oil painting, described as a “masterpiece:” In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875 (oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 20 1/8 in./38.4 x 51.1 cm.). It was deaccessioned on October 28, 2013, at Christie’s, New York, where it sold for $2,045,000 USD/£ 1,270,817 GBP (price includes Buyer’s Premium).
Tissot’s L’Ambitieuse (1883-1885), or The Political Woman, was one of fifteen paintings in the “Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris) series.
Immediately after Kathleen Newton died in London of tuberculosis in November, 1882, Tissot abandoned his St. John’s Wood home and moved back to Paris. Having been absent 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.” 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.
Measuring 73 1/2 x 56 x 5 in. (186.69 x 142.24 x 12.7 cm.), L’Ambitieuse was owned by the American painter William Merritt Chase (1849 –1916). In 1909, Chase donated the painting to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. It is not on view.
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.
Jules Claretie (1840 – 1913) was to write on L’Ambitieuse), but no such text by him exists. Only the first five of Tissot’s series were etched, among them The Women of the Chariots. The project ended in 1886 with Tissot’s ambition to illustrate the Bible. He never painted from modern life again.
Tissot’s Bible paintings, including his Portrait of the Pilgrim (a self-portrait in watercolor and graphite, 1886-1896) are at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, but they are not on view.
© 2013 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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