The wealth of contemporary collectors of James Tissot’s oil paintings gives an idea of the monetary value of his paintings, but Tissot’s work also was esteemed by his friends.
In 1869, Tissot began contributing political cartoons to the newest Society journal in London, Vanity Fair, founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841 – 1922). Tommy Bowles was the illegitimate son of Thomas Milner Gibson (1806 – 1884), a Liberal MP for Manchester and President of the Board of Trade from 1859 to 1866, and a servant, Susannah Bowles. Tommy’s father (and even his father’s wife and children) acknowledged him. Tissot, at 33, was famous in Paris. Tommy, a handsome and mischievous blue-eyed blonde, was five or six years younger and making a name for himself, even in France, with his controversial articles in London’s Morning Post.
By September 1869, Tommy Bowles was paying Tissot to provide caricatures of prominent men for Vanity Fair. Tommy, who gave himself a salary of five guineas a week, initially paid Tissot ten guineas for four drawings. Within a few weeks he increased Tissot’s compensation to eight pounds for each drawing: circulation had skyrocketed.
One of Tommy Bowles’ closest friends was the dashing Gus Burnaby (Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, 1842 – 1885), a captain in the privileged Royal Horse Guards, the cavalry regiment that protected the monarch. Gus, a member of the Prince of Wales’ set, had suggested the name, Vanity Fair, lent Bowles half of the necessary £200 in start-up funding, and then volunteered to go to Spain to chronicle his adventures for the satirical magazine.
In 1870, Tommy Bowles, now 29, commissioned James Tissot to paint a small portrait of Burnaby. Tissot presented Gus in his “undress” uniform as a captain in the 3rd Household Cavalry – and as an elegant gentleman in a relaxed male conversation. The painting was purchased by London’s National Portrait Gallery from Bowles’ son (and Burnaby’s godson), George, in 1933.
From the time he was a little boy, Tommy Bowles’ stepmother, Arethusa Susannah, a Society hostess who was the daughter of Sir Thomas Gery Cullum of Hardwick House, Suffolk, insisted that he be raised with his natural father’s family of four sons and two daughters. Tommy’s favorite half-sister was Sydney Milner-Gibson, eight years younger, and in 1872, when Sydney was in her early twenties, he commissioned James Tissot to paint her portrait.
In 1880, the unmarried Sydney died of enteric fever* – typhoid – at Hawstead, in Suffolk outside Bury St. Edmunds, two days before her thirty-first birthday. Her younger brother, George Gery Milner Gibson, died unmarried in 1921 and bequeathed most of the family portraits to the Borough of St. Edmundsbury. Tissot’s portrait of Miss Sydney Milner-Gibson, valued at £1.8 million, is on display at Moyse’s Hall Museum as part of a display in the Edwardson Room first floor gallery in an exhibit on Victorian costume.
Note:* Previously, scholars reported that Sydney Milner-Gibson died of tuberculosis. However, a copy of Sydney’s death certificate was sent to me by reader Adam Mead of Bristol, U.K. Adam blogs on the Milner-Gibson family at https://milnergibson.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/the-milner-gibsons/. Thank you, Adam!
In late 1875, Tommy Bowles married Jessica Evans Gordon (1852 – 1887). Her father, Major-General Charles Evans Gordon, was Governor of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital Netley, the largest military hospital in its day with 138 wards housing about one thousand beds. In the year following their marriage, Tissot made an informal portrait of her wearing her morning cap. After Jessica’s death at 35, Tommy wrote, “So bright and joyous, so gentle and gracious a spirit as hers…She was as near perfect wife and mother as may be.”
Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1821 – 1879) was an influential Liberal Society hostess whose fourth and final husband was Chichester Fortescue (1823 –1898), an Irish MP, who became Lord Carlingford. Tissot may have met her through John Everett Millais, who frequented her salons. She shared Tissot’s interest in spiritualism and painting, and at some point, Tissot painted her portrait in her boudoir. The portrait, whereabouts unknown, was not considered a good likeness.
In 1871 – shortly after Tissot had fled Paris – the charming and “irresistible” Countess Waldegrave pulled strings to get Tissot a lucrative commission to paint a full-length portrait of Fortescue, which was funded by a group of eighty-one Irishmen including forty-nine MPs, five Roman Catholic bishops and twenty-seven peers to commemorate his term as Chief Secretary for Ireland under Gladstone – as a present to his wife. The portrait was given to the University of Oxford by sitter’s nephew, Francis Fortescue Urquhart (1868-1934), Fellow of Balliol College, about 1904. It was re-hung in the North School in 1957.
Tissot’s great friend, Edgar Degas owned a pencil study for his 1872 painting, Tea. One of Tissot’s eighteenth-century costume paintings, it was 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.
British painter Louise Jopling (1843 – 1933) had lived in Paris from 1865 to 1869, when her ne’er-do-well husband, Frank Romer, was sent packing by his employer, Baron de Rothschild. Louise had been painting with the encouragement of the Baroness, a watercolor artist, and once living
in London, Louise continued painting despite numerous hardships. Her work was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibitions after 1870, and she met “that extraordinarily clever French artist, James Tissot,” when his
picture, Too Early, “made a great sensation” at the 1873 exhibition. Tissot gave her a sketch of Gravesend he made that year. In her 1925 autobiography, Louise wrote of him, “James Tissot was a charming man, very handsome, extraordinarily like the Duke [then, Prince] of Teck. He was always well groomed, and had nothing of artistic carelessness either in his dress or demeanor. At one time he was very hospitable, and delightful were the dinners he gave. But these ceased when he became absorbed in a grande passion with a married woman who, to his great grief, died after he had known her but a brief time.”
Algernon Moses Marsden (1847 – 1920) was a more colorful character than James Tissot’s urbane portrait of him suggests. [To learn more about him, see Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?] He may have been Tissot’s picture dealer for a short time, though there is no information on any of Tissot’s paintings that Marsden may have sold. But Tissot’s In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, a masterpiece that was deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at Christie’s, New York in October, 2013 [see For sale: In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot], is listed in the auction catalogue as having originally been “(probably) with Algernon Moses Marsden, London.” The catalogue suggests that Marsden modeled for one of the figures in this painting: “The dark-haired young man with moustache in the teatime scene looks very similar to Marsden, whose portrait Tissot painted in 1877.” Marsden poses in the elegant new studio of Tissot’s home in St. John’s Wood [the setting often is erroneously identified as Marsden’s study]. This portrait, just a bit larger than Tissot’s 1870 portrait of Gus Burnaby, remained in the Marsden family for nearly a century. Algernon Marsden at age 30 appears sophisticated and well-to-do, but he was a high-living scoundrel. Tissot’s portrait, which captures the man in his moment of youth and apparent success, was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1971 for $4,838/£2,000. In 1983, it was sold at Christie’s, London for $65,677/£45,000. [Hammer prices.]
Algernon Moses Marsden’s aunt – Julia White, was married to Edward Fox White, of 13 Belsize Park Gardens, Hampstead, who was a “dealer in works of art.” Tissot’s portrait of him [measuring 29 by 21 in. (73.66 by 53.34 cm); click here and scroll down to see it, http://tonyseymour.com/pages/gomes-silva] was passed down through the family until 1988, when it was sold at Sotheby’s for £50,000/$ 92,205 (Hammer price).
Tissot gave A Civic Procession Descending Ludgate Hill, London (c. 1879, oil on canvas, 84.5 by 43 in./214.6 by 109.2 cm), previously called The Lord Mayor’s Show, to Léonce Bénédite, the Curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. The painting was purchased by the Corporaton of London through S.C. L’Expertise, Paris, from the curator’s granddaughter, Mme. Léonce Bénédite, in 1972 and is now in the collection of the Guildhall Art Gallery. It is not currently on view, but see James Tissot’s “A Civic Procession” (c. 1879).
Around 1885, Tissot gave Study for ‘Le Sphinx’ (Woman in an Interior) to Léonce Bénédite.
This image from TIssot’s La Femme à Paris series, which remained with the Bénédite family until it was sold around 1972, actually was a portrait of Louise Riesener (1860 – 1944). The same year, Tissot planned to marry Mlle. Riesener, the granddaughter of portrait painter Henri Riesener (1767 – 1828), a daughter of the painter Léon Riesener (1808-1878), and a cousin of painter Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863). Along with her sister Rosalie, she belonged to the same artistic social set as Berthe Morisot, for whom they modeled.
Unfortunately, one day when the forty-nine-year-old Tissot removed his overcoat in the front hall, his appearance struck his twenty-five-year-old fiancée as old-fashioned. Louise suddenly decided that she had lost her desire to marry.
In 2005, Study for “Le Sphinx” sold at Sotheby’s, New York for $ 650,000 USD/£ 364,023 GBP (Hammer price).
Tissot exhibited July (Speciman of a Portrait), along with nine other paintings, at London’s Grosvenor Gallery – a sumptuous, invitation-only showcase for contemporary art in New Bond Street – in 1878, the year it was painted. The painting is one in a series representing months of the year, and the figure is modeled by Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882). The setting for July was the Royal Albion Hotel near the shore of Viking Bay in Ramsgate, a seaside resort on the Kent coast, seventy-eight miles southeast of London. At some point, another artist painted a frizzy red hairstyle (probably considered more up-to-date) on Kathleen Newton; In 1980, this original version was donated to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio at the bequest of Noah L. Butkin.
Tissot had painted a copy, showing Kathleen Newton wearing a tight blonde bun. Tissot gave this version of the painting to Emile Simon, administrator of the Théâtre l’Ambigu-Comique at 2, Boulevard Saint Martin, Paris from 1882 to 1884. Simon sold it as La Réverie in the five-day sale of his collection at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris in 1905. In 2002, this version of Seaside (also known as July, La Réverie, or Ramsgate Harbour), signed and inscribed: “J.J. Tissot a l’am(i) E. Simon en bon Souvenir” (on the horizontal bar of the window frame), was sold at Christie’s, London for $ 2,161,740 USD/£ 1,400,000 GBP (Hammer price).
Other art experts whose collections included a Tissot oil painting include the wife of Paris Temps art critic M. Thiébault-Sisson. Mme. Thiébault-Sisson sold Tissot’s lovely Portrait of Mademoiselle L. L. (1864) at a Paris auction in 1907. The picture is now on display at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Tissot’s L’Ambitieuse (1883-1885), or The Political Woman, was owned by the American Impressionist 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.
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