From Princess to Plutocrat: Tissot’s Patrons

The story of James Tissot’s patrons is the story of social transition:  in the late nineteenth century, art collecting ceased to be the prerogative of the aristocracy and became a status symbol for the new class of wealthy industrialists

The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their Children (1865), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 69 11/16 x 85 7/16 in. (177 x 217 cm.) Musée d’Orsay, Paris (Photo credit: Wikimedia.org)

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 had found his entrée to aristocratic patronage with The Marquis and the Marchioness of Miramon and their children [René de Cassagne de Beaufort, marquis de Miramon (1835 – 1882) and his wife, née Thérèse Feuillant (1836 – 1912), with their first two children, Geneviève (1863 – 1924) and Léon (1861 – 1884) on the terrace of the château de Paulhac in Auvergne].  The portrait of the Marquis and Marchioness of Miramon and their children remained in the family until 2006, when it was acquired by the Musée d’Orsay.  When exhibited in Paris in 1866, this painting served as Tissot’s 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: 50 1/2 x 30 3/8 in. (128.3 x 77.2 cm.). 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, in her sitting room at the château de Paulhac in Auvergne.  Tissot wrote to her husband, who had commissioned the portrait, asking permission to display her portrait at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition.  The J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, California, acquired the picture from the family in 2007.

Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay (1867), by James Tissot. 27 x 15 in. (68.58 x 38.10 cm.) Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Lucy Paquette

Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay (1867), by James Tissot. 27 x 15 in. (68.58 x 38.10 cm.) Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Lucy Paquette

In 1866 – at age 30 – Tissot won the right to exhibit anything he wished at the Salons.

Busy with commissions from his aristocratic patrons, he bought property to build 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.

While his house was under construction, Tissot painted Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay (1824 –1896), the president of the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris.  Married in 1853, Eugène Aimé Nicolas Coppens de Fontenay had three children. 

Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay remained in the family until 1971, when it was sold by Christie’s, London for $ 4,352 USD/£1,800 GBP.  It was purchased by the City of Philadelphia in 1972 and is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Circle of the Rue Royale (1868), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 110 5/8 in. (175 x 281 cm.) Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo credit: Wikimedia.org)

Tissot moved into his elegant new villa by 1868, and 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.  That year, he painted a hearty slice of the French aristocracy in a group portrait, The Circle of the Rue Royale (1868).  Members of this exclusive club, founded in 1852, each paid Tissot a sitting fee of 1,000 francs.  He portrayed them on a balcony of the Hôtel de Coislin overlooking the Place de la Concorde (if you look closely at the original painting, you can see the horse traffic through the balustrade).  From left to right: Count Alfred de La Tour Maubourg (1834-1891), Marquis Alfred du Lau d’Allemans (1833-1919), Count Étienne de Ganay (1833-1903), Captain Coleraine Vansittart (1833-1886), Marquis René de Miramon (1835-1882), Count Julien de Rochechouart (1828-1897), Baron Rodolphe Hottinguer (1835-1920; he kept the painting according to the agreed-upon drawing of lots), Marquis Charles-Alexandre de Ganay (1803-1881), Baron Gaston de Saint-Maurice (1831-1905), Prince Edmond de Polignac (1834-1901), Marquis Gaston de Galliffet (1830-1909) and Charles Haas (1833-1902).  The Musée d’Orsay acquired The Circle of the Rue Royale in 2011 from Baron Hottinguer’s descendants.

Beating the Retreat in the Tuileries Gardens (1867), by James Tissot. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Princess Mathilde Bonaparte. Photo: Wikimedia.org

At the 1868 Salon, Tissot exhibited two oil paintings, one of which, Beating the Retreat in the Tuileries Gardens, was purchased by Napoleon III’s influential cousin, Princess Mathilde.  Mathilde was an artist herself and had won a medal at the 1865 Paris Salon.

Meanwhile, the rising industrial class was beginning to invest in art.

Tissot exhibited Le confessional (Leaving the Confessional, 1865), an oil painting, at the 1866 Salon when he was 30, still living in student lodgings in the Latin Quarter while gaining recognition and success in Paris.  A watercolor version, which is smaller but otherwise virtually identical to the original oil, was commissioned in 1867 by American grain merchant and liquor wholesaler William Thompson Walters (1819 – 1894).  Upon his death, his son and fellow art collector Henry Walters (1848 – 1931), inherited his father’s collection and bequeathed it to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland at his death.  Tissot’s watercolor, The Confessional, is not on view.

The Confessional (c. 1867), by James Tissot. Watercolor, 10 3/8 by 5 11/16 in. (26.4 by 14.4 cm). Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Other collectors of James Tissot’s paintings in the United States included:  Massachusetts shipper and banker Alvin Adams (1804 – 1877); New York lawyer Robert Livingston Cutting (1836 – 1894); Pennsylvania dry goods merchant, woolens manufacturer and financier Thomas Dolan (1834 – 1914); Pennsylvania banker, real estate developer and distiller Henry C. Gibson (1830 – 1891); and New York lawyer and judge Henry Hilton (1824 – 1899).

After the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71, and the bloody Commune uprising in Paris in the spring of 1871, Tissot moved to London.  Within two years, he had established himself in a large house with a studio, a conservatory and a luxurious garden in St. John’s Wood.  While British aristocrats did not purchase his paintings, plenty of newly-wealthy businessmen sought his work as they enhanced their social status by building art collections.  Because provenance (the history of ownership) of Old Masters paintings was not always meticulously documented at this time, many new collectors – wary of fakes – concentrated on contemporary artists so they would know exactly what they were getting for their money.

On the Thames, A Heron (c. 1871-1872) is one of Tissot’s first paintings after his arrival in London – and it was the first on record to be sold at auction in England.  Calculated to appeal to Victorian tastes, this Japanese-influenced scene initially was owned by London banker José de Murrieta, a member of a prominent Spanish family.  Murrieta tried to sell the painting on May 24, 1873 as On the Thames:  the frightened heron; priced at 570 guineas, it did not find a buyer.  His brother, Antonio de Murrieta, attempted and failed to sell it on June 15, 1873 for 260 guineas.  As The Heron, the painting was sold by Sotheby’s, New York in 1973 for $ 32,000 USD/£ 12,886 GBP.  On the Thames, A Heron was the gift of collector Mrs. Patrick Butler, by exchange, to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and is on display.

In 1883, At the Rifle Range (1869) was offered for sale by one of the de Murrieta brothers at Christie’s, London as The Crack Shot, for £220.10s but failed to find a buyer at that price.  It was purchased by Captain Bambridge in 1937 at the Leicester Galleries in London.  Captain George Bambridge (1892 – 1943), a British diplomat, was married to Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, Elsie (1896 – 1976).  From 1938, the childless couple resided at Wimpole Hall, about 8½ miles (14 kilometres) southwest of Cambridge.  Since Elsie Bambridge’s death in 1976, the estate has been owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Les Adieux was reproduced as a steel engraving by John Ballin and published by Pilgeram and Lefèvre in 1873 – an indication of its popularity.  The picture was owned by wealthy international railway contractor Charles Waring (c. 1827 – 1887).  After his death, it was sold for 220 guineas at Christie’s, London to the father of Lt. Col. P.L.E. Walker, from whom it was purchased by the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in 1955.

Tissot’s The Last Evening was purchased from Agnew’s, a London art dealership that specialized in “high-class modern paintings,” by Charles Gassiot (1826 – 1902), a London wine merchant and art patron who lived in a mansion in Upper Tooting, Surrey.  Gassiot bought The Last Evening in February, 1873, before it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, for £1,000.  He and his wife Georgiana, a childless couple, donated a number of his paintings, including The Last Evening, to the Guildhall Art Gallery from 1895 to 1902.  This picture is currently on view.  Gassiot also purchased Tissot’s Too Early, from Agnew’s in March, 1873 (before its exhibition at the Royal Academy that year), for £1,155.  Gassiot bequeathed it to the Guildhall Art Gallery, where it is on view for visitors.

Tissot sold La Visite au Navire to Agnew’s, London, in mid-June 1873.  Less than five months later, at the beginning of November, Agnew’s, Liverpool sold the painting to art collector David Jardine (c.1826 – 1911) of Highlea, Beaconsfield Road, Woolton.  Jardine, a timber broker and ship owner, was the head of Farnworth & Jardine, world famous for their mahogany auctions; a man of considerable ability and courtesy, he was well liked for his “courtly bearing.”  Incidentally, this picture, purchased from the Leicester Galleries, London by William Hulme Lever, 2nd Lord Leverhulme, in 1933, was sold as A Visit to the Yacht following a sale at Sotheby’s, London on December 4, 2013.  A buyer in the United States purchased the picture for a price within the estimated £2 to 3 million GBP it was expected to bring at the auction.  [See For sale: A Visit to the Yacht, c. 1873, by James Tissot]

The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874) was purchased from Tissot by London art dealer William Agnew (1825 – 1910), the year it was completed and sold to Hilton Philipson (1834 – 1904), a solicitor and colliery owner living at Tynemouth.  (Philipson also spent 620 guineas at Agnew’s for John Everett Millais’ 1874 painting, The Picture of Health, a portrait of Millais’ daughter, Alice (later Mrs. Charles Stuart Wortley).  The Ball on Shipboard, which has been in the collection of the Tate since 1937, is not on display.

In 1874, James Tissot sold paintings to two aristocrats: the exiled Empress of France, widow of Napoleon III, Eugénie de Montijo (1826 –1920), and Irish peer Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt (1836 – 1904).  Lord Powerscourt, whose forebears had lived since 1300 on a magnificent estate outside Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland, paid £1,000 for Avant le Départ (Private Collection), and by autumn, Tissot was commissioned to paint a double portrait, The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst (c. 1874, Musée Nationale du Château de Compiègne, France).  After this, Tissot’s paintings continued to be purchased primarily by industrialists [though in the late 1880s, he executed pastel portraits of some aristocratic women].

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, Sir 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.  Chrysanthemums was purchased by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1994.

Portrait of Mrs Catherine Smith Gill and Two of her Children (1877), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas; 60.04 x 39.96 in. (152.5 x 101.5 cm.). Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. (Photo: wikimedia.org)

Mr. Chapple Gill (c.1833 – 1901/2), was the son of Robert Gill, a Liverpool cotton broker of Knotty Cross and R. & C. Gill; the son joined the business in 1857 and had risen to senior partner [by 1880, he became head of the firm].  In 1877, he commissioned French painter Tissot, then living in London, to paint a portrait of his wife, Catherine Smith Carey (1847-1916), whom he had married on June 10, 1868 at Childwall.  She was the only child of Thomas Carey (1809 – c. 1875), a wealthy, retired estate agent.  Tissot’s portrait of Catherine Smith Gill shows her – heiress at age 30 – sitting in the drawing-room window of her mother’s home at Lower Lee, at Woolton near Liverpool, which was built by Catherine’s father.  The portrait was purchased from Berkeley Chapple Gill, grandson of Mrs. Gill – the son of the little boy in the painting – in 1979, and it remains on view at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.  Click here for an interactive view of it, and compare this 1877 Victorian family portrait to Portrait of the Marquis and Marchioness of Miramon and their children, which was considered a very modern, informal family portrait in Paris in 1865.

Kaye Knowles, Esq. (1835-1886), was a London banker whose vast wealth came from shares in his family’s Lancashire coal mining business, Andrew Knowles and Sons.  Knowles, a client of London art dealer Algernon Moses Marsden [1848-1920, see Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?], owned a large art collection, including works by Sir Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Rosa Bonheur, Giuseppe De Nittis, Atkinson Grimshaw and Édouard Detaille.  He eventually owned four oil paintings by James Tissot, including The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst; On the Thames (1876, The Hepworth Wakefield Art Gallery, Wakefield, West Yorkshire); and In the Conservatory (also known as Rivals, c. 1875-1876, Private Collection).  Incidentally, 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 recently was deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  [See For sale: In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot]

Andrew Knowles also owned Tissot’s The Convalescent (1875/1876), which was exhibited at the 1876 Royal Academy exhibition.  In the collection of Museums Sheffield since 1949, it is not currently on view.

Portsmouth Dockyard (c. 1877) originally was owned by Henry Jump (1820 – 1893), a wealthy Justice of the Peace and corn merchant living at Gateacre, Lancashire.  It has been in the collection of the Tate since 1941 and is not currently on display.

Bad News (The Parting, 1872), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 68.6 x 91.4 cm. National Museum Cardiff. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

William Menelaus (1818 – 1882) was a Scottish-born engineer, iron and steel manufacturer, and inventor. Widowed after only ten weeks of marriage, he never remarried but raised two nephews (William Darling, who became a law lord, and Charles Darling, who became an MP and later a baron). Menelaus earned a fortune at the Dowlais Ironworks in South Wales, and his only extravagance was his art collection, which was said to fill his home in Merthyr. He donated pieces to the Cardiff Free Library, then upon his death, bequeathed to it the remaining thirty-six paintings, valued at £10,000. His bequest, which included James Tissot’s Bad News (The Parting), painted in 1872, is now in the collection of the National Museum Cardiff. Bad News (The Parting) is displayed in Gallery 6, Level 4.

Quiet (c. 1881) was purchased by Richard Donkin, M.P. (1836 – 1919), an English shipowner who was elected Member of Parliament for the newly created constituency of Tynemouth in the 1885 general election.  The small painting remained in the family and was a major discovery of a Tissot work when it appeared on the market in 1993, selling for $ 416,220/£ 280,000.  In perfect condition, it shows Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), and her niece, Lilian Hervey in the garden of Tissot’s house at 17 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, in north London.  It was Lilian Hervey who, in 1946, publicly identified the model long known only as “La Mystérieuse” – the Mystery Woman – as her aunt, Kathleen Newton.

Related blog posts:

The high life, 1868: Tissot, his villa & The Circle of the Rue Royale

James Tissot’s brilliant marketing tool, 1869

James Tissot’s house at St. John’s Wood, London

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

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

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