James Tissot was only twenty-five when one of his oil paintings entered a public art collection. The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite attracted the attention of the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, Director-General of Museums, who purchased the painting in 1860 on behalf of the government for the Luxembourg Museum for 5,000 francs.
The Luxembourg was the first French museum to be opened to the public, in 1750, with about 125 paintings by Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Veronese, Titian, Poussin, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. These works later were sent to the Louvre, and in 1818, the Musée du Luxembourg was designated a “museum for living artists” – a museum of contemporary art. The work of David, Ingres, Delacroix and others was exhibited there.
This was a tremendous honor for Tissot; he exhibited The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite in the Salon of 1861, where he won an honorable mention. (In 1983, the painting was assigned to the Louvre, where it is displayed with Salon paintings.)
The next Tissot oil painting to enter a museum collection was the first in the United Kingdom. Can you guess what it was?
William Menelaus (1818 – 1882) was a Scottish-born engineer, iron and steel manufacturer, and inventor. He 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 in 1882, 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.
The first Tissot oil to enter a North American museum was the second version of London Visitors. The original version (at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio since 1951) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874. It was not well received by the critics, partly due to the “immodesty” of the woman looking out at an implied male viewer, who has disposed of his cigar on the steps in the foreground in her presence. Men would have understood the woman to be sexually available, and this was considered “French” rather than English, quite distasteful. As if to make amends, Tissot painted.a smaller version of London Visitors the same year, removing the cigar and shifting the woman’s gaze off to the right [i.e. the viewer’s right]. In 1888, this picture was gifted to the Milwaukee Art Museum by meat packer and philanthropist Frederick Layton (1827 – 1919). At that time, James Tissot was known in the United States as an illustrator of the Bible, so this was the first opportunity for the American public to see one of his scenes from modern life. The painting is currently on view.
Also given to a public art collection during Tissot’s lifetime was The Bridesmaid (c. 1883-85), from his “La Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris) series. Exhibited at the Arthur Tooth Gallery in London in 1886, The Bridesmaid sold at Christie’s in 1889 for £69.5s.0d and was given to the Leeds City Art Gallery by R.R. King in 1897. It is now on display in Room Five.
In 1902, coincidentally the year James Tissot died, two of his best-known paintings were bequeathed to the Guildhall Art Gallery, London. The Last Evening (1873) and Too Early (1873) were purchased from William Agnew (1825 – 1910), the most influential art dealer in London, by Charles Gassiot (1826 – 1902), a London wine merchant and art patron who lived in a mansion in Upper Tooting, Surrey. Gassiot bought them for £1,000 and £1,155, respectively, before they were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873. He and his wife Georgiana, a childless couple, donated a number of paintings, including The Last Evening and Too Early, to the Guildhall Art Gallery from 1895 to 1902. Both pictures are currently on view.
Upon his death, Tissot left a series of four oil paintings to the Louvre. These scenes from The Prodigal Son in Modern Life (1880) included Le depart (The Departure), En pays étranger (In Foreign Climes), Le Retour (The Return), and Le veau gras (The Fatted Calf). They entered the collection in 1904 and are assigned to the Musée d’Orsay but are not on view.
The next Tissot oil painting to enter a French collection was The Two Sisters (1863), which was exhibited at the Salon in 1864. It was sold from Tissot’s studio, a year after his death in 1902, to a collector (Albert Bichet) in whose name it was given to the Luxembourg Museum, in 1904. The Two Sisters entered the collection of the Louvre in 1929 and in 1982 was assigned to the Musée d’Orsay, where it is on view in Room 11.
Chichester Fortescue, later Baron Carlingford (1823 – 1898), was a politically ambitious Irishman and Liberal MP for County Louth from 1847 to 1868.
He became a junior lord of the treasury in 1854, and in 1863, he married the beautiful, virtuous and politically influential Society hostess Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1821 – 1879), whose portrait Tissot also painted. [Set in her boudoir, it was not considered a good likeness, and its whereabouts are unknown.]
Fortescue held minor offices in the Liberal administrations until he was made Chief Secretary for Ireland under Lord Russell from 1865 through 1866, and again under Gladstone from 1868 to 1870. From 1871 to 1874, Chichester Fortescue was President of the Board of Trade.
His full-length portrait by Tissot, which measures 74 ½ by 47 ½ in. (189.2 by 120.7 cm), 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.
In 1907, Portrait of Mademoiselle L.L. (1864) was purchased from the sale of a private collection for the Luxembourg Museum. It was assigned to the Musée d’Orsay in 1978 and is on view in Room 11.
Tissot’s L’Ambitieuse (1883-1885), or The Political Woman, was one of fifteen paintings in the “Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris) series. 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.
In 1919, three of Tissot’s oil paintings were bequeathed to the French nation by a private collector, William Vaughan. La rêveuse (Summer Evening, c. 1876), Le Bal (Evening, 1878), and La soeur aînée (The Elder Sister, c. 1881) entered the Luxembourg and later were assigned to the Musée Orsay. Of these three pictures, only Le Bal is on display, in Room 11.
Each of these three paintings featured the same mysterious lady, Tissot’s mistress and muse, whose existence would not be realized until 1933 and whose name would remain unknown for a quarter-century after the public could see her image for the first time.
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