By 1930, thirty-two of James Tissot’s oil paintings were in public art collections worldwide: sixteen in France, nine in the U.K., three in the U.S., one in Canada, one in India, and two in New Zealand. Few, if any, of Tissot’s contemporaries remained to share recollections of the artist. The only biographical material on Tissot publicly available was a twenty-five page journal article published in France in 1906.
In 1933, the first exhibition of Tissot’s work was held at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1933: ” ‘In the Seventies’ – An Exhibition of Paintings by James Tissot.” A visitor to this exhibition, a man in his late fifties, stood before one of the paintings of a beautiful woman and declared, “That was my mother,” then walked out. The woman, who appeared in a number of Tissot’s paintings between 1876 and 1882, and whose identity remained unknown into the next decade, was referred to as “la Mystérieuse” – the Mystery Woman. In 1946, art historians would learn that she was Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly Newton (1854 – 1882), and they surmised that the man was Cecil George Newton (1876 – 1941). [See Was Cecil Newton James Tissot’s son?]
As scholars began to take an interest in the work of James Tissot and one of his oil paintings was rescued from an interior decorator’s store on Third Street in Cincinnati, eleven more of his paintings were acquired by art museums worldwide in the 1930s.
A second oil portrait commissioned by Tissot’s good friend Tommy Bowles (Thomas Gibson Bowles, 1842 – 1922), entered a public collection during this time (the first was a portrait of Bowes’ half-sister, Sydney Isabella Milner-Gibson, c. 1872, bequeathed to the Borough of St. Edmundsbury in 1921). Tissot occasionally supplied Tommy Bowles with caricatures of prominent men for Vanity Fair, Tommy’s new Society magazine which had made its début in London in 1868. One of Tommy’s 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. All Burnaby’s letters, which were first published on December 19, 1868 and continued through 1869, were titled “Out of Bounds” and signed “Convalescent” (he suffered intermittent bouts of digestive ailments and depression throughout his life).
In 1870, the twenty-nine-year-old Tommy Bowles 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 displayed at the International Exhibition in London, 1872, as Portrait of Captain * * *. In 1933, it was purchased by London’s National Portrait Gallery from Bowles’ son (and Burnaby’s godson), George F.S. Bowles (1877 – 1955), a barrister, Conservative MP for Norwood from 1906 to 1910, and author.
Escalier nord de la Colonnade (North Staircase of the Colonnade, c. 1875 – 1880) was given to the Louvre in 1933 by French art historian Jean-Joseph Marquet de Vasselot (1871 – 1946), a curator in the Department of Decorative Arts at the Louvre who served as director of the Musée de Cluny from 1926 to 1933. The painting depicts the Louvre’s “Assyrian staircase,” built in 1807. Tissot’s Escalier nord de la Colonnade, which measures 62 by .38 cm, is displayed in Room 2, “History of the Louvre: from Napoleon to the Present Day.”
Hush! (The Concert), painted in 1875, was acquired in 1933 by the Manchester Art Gallery, where it is on display in the Balcony Gallery. Exhibited at the Royal Academy during the height of Tissot’s success in London, when it sold for 1,200 guineas, the scene depicts a crowded Kensington salon, hosted by Lord and Lady Coope, which features a performer who may have been Moravian violinist Wilma Neruda (1838—1911). The blonde gentleman with the mustache at the far left may have been modeled by Tissot’s friend Tommy Bowles.
In 1934, the Louvre purchased Tissot’s double portrait The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst (c. 1874) from the Leicester Galleries, London. It depicts the exiled Empress, living outside London after the collapse of the Second Empire, and her son, who would be killed in 1879, in the Zulu War.
The painting once had been owned by Kaye Knowles, Esq. (1835-1886), 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.
For a time, Algernon Moses Marsden worked with James Tissot, and Kaye Knowles owned four oil paintings by James Tissot, including The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst, The Convalescent (1875/1876), 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).
The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst is now in the collection of the Musée Nationale du Château de Compiègne, France.
The Captain’s Daughter was with the Leicester Galleries, London by 1933 and was purchased by the Southampton City Art Gallery in 1934 through the Frederick William Smith Bequest Fund. After Tissot had moved to London in 1871, he continually sought “British” subject matter, always offering it up with a French twist. He painted The Captain’s Daughter in 1873. The painting is set at the Falcon Tavern in Gravesend, and the woman was modeled by Margaret Kennedy (1840-1930), the wife of Tissot’s friend, Captain John Freebody, (b. 1834). Freebody was the master of the Arundel Castle from 1872-73, and his ship took emigrants to America. Tissot exhibited The Captain’s Daughter, as well as two other paintings [The Last Evening (1873) and Too Early (1873), both at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London], at the Royal Academy in 1873.
Tissot exhibited In Church (1865) as Le confessional at the Salon of 1866 when he was 30. Still living in student lodgings in the Latin Quarter, he was gaining recognition and success in Paris. In Church (which measures 45 ½ by 27 ¼ in. (115.4 by 69.2 cm) was purchased from the Leicester Galleries in London in 1936 by the Southampton City Art Gallery through the Frederick William Smith Bequest Fund. It is not on display.
The watercolor version above, The Confessional, measures 10 3/8 by 5 11/16 in. (26.4 by 14.4 cm) but otherwise is very similar to the original oil. It was commissioned in 1867 by American grain merchant and liquor wholesaler William Thompson Walters (1819 – 1894), whose art collection formed the basis of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. 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 1931. Tissot’s watercolor has been included in several exhibitions over the years, most recently in 2005-2006, but it is not currently on view.
Tissot exhibited The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth), c. 1876, at the Grosvenor Gallery from May to June 1877. The picture was owned by J. Robertson Reid, then Henry Trengrouse, Teddington. It was sold by Trengrouse’s executors at the Puttick and Simpson sale in London in 1929, and purchased by the Leicester Galleries, London, for 16 guineas. It then was purchased by industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld (1876 – 1947), London. By 1908, Courtauld was general manager of Samuel Courtauld and Company, Great Britain’s dominant silk producer, which had developed rayon, an artificial silk.
Courtauld served as chairman of the family firm, which had become a £12 million international business, from 1921 to 1946. He founded London’s Courtauld Institute of Art in 1932 and also created a fund for the Tate and the National Gallery to acquire national collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. In 1936, Courtauld presented The Gallery of HMS Calcutta to the Tate, but it is not on display.
At this time, all that was known publicly of James Tissot’s eventful life was contained in a twenty-five page journal article by young decorative artist George Bastard (1881-1939) published in France in 1906, four years after Tissot’s death. Bastard, who had been acquainted with Tissot, relied on his memory and some first-hand information he had received from the artist.
The first biography of James Tissot since then was published in London in 1936: Vulgar Society: The Romantic Career of James Tissot, 1836-1902, by novelist and fashion historian James Laver (1899 –1975). Laver may have taken some poetic license when he wrote that Tissot kept his mistress hidden away in his home in St. John’s Wood and that “she led almost the life of a prisoner,” “as if she had been a beauty of the harem.”
However, Laver did put to rest one persistent rumor: that the lady threw herself out of the bedroom window and died from her injuries. Laver reported that “The Times of 1881-82 does not give any account of a suicide case like this, nor do the inquest lists.”
In January, 1937, shortly after the publication of Laver’s biography, the Leicester Galleries held “The Second James Tissot Exhibition.” The show, with 25 oils and watercolors, included The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874), which was purchased there by artist Alfred Munnings and is now at the Tate; London Visitors (c. 1874), now at the Toledo Museum of Art; In the Conservatory (Rivals, c. 1875-1876), recently deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and now in a private collection; A Visit to the Yacht, now in a private collection; A Winter’s Walk (Promenade dans La Neige), private collection; and At the Rifle Range (1869), which was purchased at the Leicester Galleries by Captain George Bambridge (1892 – 1943), a British diplomat married to Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, Elsie (1896 – 1976) and is now at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.
The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874) was purchased from Tissot by the influential 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 later belonged to Philipson’s son’s widow, Mrs. Roland Philipson (c. 1866 – 1945), and, by 1937, to the Leicester Galleries, where it was purchased by Alfred Munnings (1878 – 1959). Munnings, a self-taught equine painter, loathed Modernism and revered artists such as James Tissot, for their pictures that aimed “to fill a man’s soul with admiration and sheer joy, not to bewilder him and daze him.” (Summer in February, a film released in 2013 based on Jonathan Smith’s 1995 novel and starring Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens and Emily Browning, dramatizes the love triangle between the young Alfred Munnings, his friend, and the woman they both loved.) Munnings had been elected a Royal Academician in 1925, and The Ball on Shipboard was presented to the Tate by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest the year he bought the painting, in 1937. It is not on display.
Tissot displayed The Thames at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1876, the year he painted it. As A Picnic on the Thames, the painting was owned by Kaye Knowles, the London banker who owned four oil paintings by James Tissot, Later, as The Thames, the picture was owned by a Mrs. Newton – no, not that one! – who lived in London, neé Stella Mary Pearce. The painting was purchased from her by the Wakefield Corporation in September, 1938, and is now at The Hepworth Wakefield Art Gallery as On the Thames.
An interesting story (c. 1872), entered the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia with the Felton Bequest in 1938. Alfred Felton (1831 –1904) an Australian entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist, remained unmarried and childless all his life. His Will established a philanthropic trust, known as the Felton Bequest. Half of the interest generated by its investment is dedicated to charities for the relief of women and children and half is dedicated to purchasing art which is judged “to have an artistic and educative value and be calculated to raise or improve the level of public taste” for the National Gallery of Victoria. Originally worth £378,033, the Felton Bequest is worth over $2 billion AUD today, and has supplied more than 15,000 art works to the National Gallery of Victoria, more lavishly endowed than London’s National Gallery and the Tate combined.
In 1939, Sir Colin and Lady Morna Anderson gifted The Widower (1876), set in Tissot’s garden in St. John’s Wood, London, to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sir Colin Anderson ran the Orient Line of luxury ships (and would serve as Chairman of the Tate Gallery from 1960 to 1967). Lady Morna Anderson, née MacCormick, was the younger daughter of Sir Alexander and Lady MacCormick, of Sydney. [Sir Alexander MacCormick (1856-1947), renowned surgeon and international yachtsman, escaped from Jersey in his yacht crammed with refugees only hours before the Nazis arrived.]
Interest in James Tissot and his paintings would continue into the war years.
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