If only we’d bought James Tissot’s paintings in the 1970s!

To cite this article: Paquette, Lucy. “If only we’d bought James Tissot’s paintings in the 1970s!The Hammock. https://thehammocknovel.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/if-only-wed-bought-james-tissots-paintings-in-the-1970s/. <Date viewed.>

All auction prices listed are for general reader interest only, and are shown in this order:    $ (USD)/£ (GBP).  All prices listed are Hammer Price (the winning bid amount) unless noted as Premium, indicating that the figure quoted includes the Buyer’s Premium of an additional percentage charged by the auction house, as well as taxes.

By 1970, the revival of interest in the Victorians and their art had been under way for only a decade, and many of those most closely involved with it were quite young.

In 1971, Sotheby’s of London introduced a new division, Sotheby’s Belgravia, devoted exclusively to the sale of Victorian art.  Peter Nahum (b. 1947), who began his career at Sotheby’s in 1966, initiated the new division from the age of 24.  [A leading expert in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Nahum left Sotheby’s in 1984 to open The Leicester Galleries, in St. James’s, London, and he now works independently, advising major private collections and museums worldwide.]

Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009), who joined Christie’s immediately on coming down from Cambridge in 1963, was appointed a director in the European and British Nineteenth-Century Paintings Department by age 27.  The first separate Victorian art sale was in July 1968.  Wood published Dictionary of Victorian Painters in 1971, when he was 30.

Scholarly studies on James Tissot in this decade contributed greatly to what we know about him today.

Willard Erwin Misfeldt (b. 1930) incorporated a significant amount of new information about the artist in his Ph.D. dissertation, “James Jacques Tissot: A Bio-critical Study,” Washington University, 1971.  Dr. Misfeldt, a professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University in Ohio from 1967 to 2001, was the first scholar to visit the Château de Buillon in Besançon, France, the family home where the artist had lived prior to his death in 1902.

Michael Justin Wentworth (1938 – 2002) was born in Detroit, Michigan.  He purchased his first prints by James Tissot in 1957, and he received his B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1962 and his M.F.A. there in 1964.   Wentworth gained a reputation as an authority on Tissot by contributing to “James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902: A Retrospective Exhibition” at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, and the Art Gallery of Toronto, in 1968.  From 1968 to 1969 he was Assistant Director at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts, and from 1971 to 1974 he served as Director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.  In 1976, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.  His dissertation, “James Tissot: A Critical Study of His Life and Work, Together with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints,” served as the basis for James Tissot: Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints, published by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) in 1978.  The release of the catalogue was accompanied by an exhibition of the same name at the MIA.  Wentworth, at 40, now was established as the world’s leading Tissot scholar.

“Good bye” – On the Mersey, by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 33 by 21 in. (83.82 by 53.34 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

Meanwhile, Princeton student Christopher (Kip) Forbes, with his father Malcolm Forbes (1919 – 1990) of the American business magazine publishing dynasty, began amassing a large collection of Victorian art in 1969.

Kip wrote that by early 1970, when he was 20, “we were buying at a fairly dizzying clip,” and it was his father who purchased several “must have” paintings at Christie’s in 1970, including James Tissot’s ‘Good bye’ – On the Mersey, at prices which far exceeded their agreed-upon limits.  Kip prepared the catalogue of his growing collection of Victorian paintings as his senior thesis for the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton.  He had collected sixty-nine paintings by 1975, saying, “I like pictures where I don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me about what’s in it.”  The Forbes Collection, which eventually included 361 works by Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti, as well as G.F. Watts, Albert Moore and James Tissot, was displayed at Old Battersea House, the Forbes’ London home, a Queen Anne mansion overlooking the Thames.  The collection was open to group tours, and selections from it were exhibited in venues including Tokyo, Mexico City, and Boston.


The Bunch of Lilacs, by James Tissot.

Kip Forbes found that in the early 1970s, the greatest Pre-Raphaelite painting or work by Frederic, Lord Leighton, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Albert Moore or James Tissot could be bought for $15,000.  In fact, in 1975, Tissot’s gorgeous The Bunch of Lilacs (c. 1875) was sold at Christie’s, London for $15,249/£ 7,000.  In 1976, Tissot’s Faust and Marguerite in the Garden (1861) sold at Christie’s, London for $ 10,123/£ 5,000.

Forbes soon had a few competitors, including the billionaire American playboy Huntington Hartford (1911 – 2008), an heir to the A&P supermarket fortune, as well as Americans buyers Edmund and Suzanne McCormick, and a Canadian couple, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum.

La Mondaine (The Woman of Fashion), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 58 by 40 in. (147.32 by 101.60 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org) In 1993, La Mondaine was sold at Sotheby’s, New York for $ 800,000 USD/£ 553,824 GBP.

Joey Tanenbaum (born 1932), the son of Polish immigrants who made their fortune in steel fabrication, is Chairman and CEO of Jay-M Enterprises Ltd. and Jay-M Holdings (Toronto, Ontario) and has built his fortune through real estate and hydroelectric power.  He and his wife, Toby, are among the top five collectors in Canada, and they are major supporters of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Canadian Opera Company, the AGO, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

www-jamestissot-org, Study-For-'Le-Sphinx'-(Woman-In-An-Interior)

Study for “Le Sphinx,” by James Tissot. Private Collection. Courtesy http://www.jamestissot.org

In the 1970s, when appreciation for Victorian painting was just beginning to grow, the Tanenbaums made a hobby of collecting rediscovered masterpieces of English and French academic painting, and it became nearly a full-time effort.  Among the Tanenbaums’ early purchases were pictures from James Tissot’s La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman) series, fifteen large-scale pictures painted in Paris between 1883 and 1885.  They portrayed the fashionable parisienne in various incarnations using brighter, modern colors than Tissot had used in his previous work.

The Tanenbaums bought La Mondaine (The Woman of Fashion) in 1970, Study for Le Sphinx (Woman in Interior) in 1973, and Sans Dot (Without Dowry) in 1975, all from the Herman Shickman Gallery in New York.  In 1978, The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa held “The Other Nineteenth Century:  Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Tanenbaum.”

Sans dot (Without Dowry, 1883-85), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 58 by 41 in. (147.32 by 104.14 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikimedia.org).  Sans Dot was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1993 for $ 800,000 USD/£ 553,824 GBP.

In Dobbs Ferry, New York, Suzanne McCormick (born 1936) and her husband, Edmund J. McCormick (1912 – 1988), a business executive, management consultant and philanthropist, collected American paintings before they began to buy 19th century British/Victorian paintings in 1976.  The McCormick collection included works by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edward Burne-Jones, John Atkinson Grimshaw, William Holman Hunt, Arthur Hughes, Frederic Leighton, John Everett Millais, Albert Moore, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Singer Sargent, James Tissot, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others.  Edmund McCormick was a friend of Christopher Forbes, and each of them would write “most wanted” lists of Victorian paintings to add to their respective collections.  The McCormicks displayed their collection at Norcross, their house overlooking the Hudson River designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but their paintings also were widely exhibited.

In 1976, Christopher Wood published Victorian Panorama: Paintings of Victorian Life, and he left Christie’s to open his own gallery in Motcomb Street.  The McCormicks purchased Tissot’s Going to Business (Going to the City, 1879) from the Christopher Wood Gallery in 1977.  [After her husband’s death in 1988, Mrs. McCormick, a former pianist, sold a portion of the collection at Sotheby’s, New York in 1990.  Going to Business sold for $ 180,000/£ 106,559.]

Going to Business (Going to the City, 1879), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 17.25 by 10 in. (43.8 by 25.4 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

The Morning Ride, by James Tissot.  Private Collection.

The Morning Ride, by James Tissot. Private Collection.

Interestingly, the work of James Tissot is half-French, half-British.  While he was increasingly in the spotlight now shining on the Victorian painters, he still was folded in with the Impressionists.  When the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held its exhibition, “Impressionist Epoch,” from December 12, 1974 to February 10, 1975, James Tissot’s The Morning Ride, which he painted in London between 1872 and 1876, was included.

Nine more Tissot oils entered public collections in the 1970s.

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 the Curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris.  The painting was purchased by the Corporation 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).

de fontenay, by Tissot

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

On the River (1871), by James Tissot.

In 1867, James Tissot painted Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay (1824 –1896), the president of the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris.  The portrait remained in the family until 1971, when it was sold at Christie’s, London for $ 4,352/£ 1,800.  Seven months later, the small but arresting portrait was with the Herman Shickman Gallery, New York, before being purchased by the City of Philadelphia with the W. P. Wilstach Fund in 1972.  It is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Gallery 151 on the first floor (European Art 1850-1900).

On the River (1871), measuring 34 by 19 in. (86.36 by 48.26 cm), was in the collection of Mrs. M. Ford until it was sold at Sotheby’s, London for $ 1,175/£ 420 in 1964.  It was purchased by Jeremy Maas, a London art dealer who sold it to the U.K. Department of the Environment in July 1973.  As part of the Government Art Collection, On the River is now at the British Embassy in Paris.

On the Thames, A Heron (c. 1871-72), by James Tissot. 36 1/2 by 23 3/4 in. (92.71 by 60.33 cm). Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota, U.S. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

On the Thames, A Heron (c. 1871-1872) is one of Tissot’s first paintings after his move from Paris to London in June, 1871 – and it was the first on record to be sold at auction in England.  Calculated to appeal to Victorian tastes, this Japanese-influenced scene was owned by wealthy Spanish banker José de Murrieta.  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 (35 by 23 in./88.90 by 58.42 cm), the painting was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1973 for $ 32,000/£ 12,886.  On the Thames, A Heron was the gift of collector Mrs. Patrick Butler, by exchange in 1975, to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

L’embuscade (Tentative d’enlèvement)/The Ambush (The Attempted Abduction) [also referred to as L’enlèvement] (c. 1865-67). Oil on canvas, 22.5 by 36.6 in. (57.2 by 93 cm). Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France.

L’embuscade (Tentative d’enlèvement)/The Ambush (The Attempted Abduction) [also referred to as L’enlèvement], c. 1865-67, was acquired in 1974 by the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes with the assistance of a grant from the Direction des Musées de France.  It has been included in numerous exhibitions.

At the Rifle Range (1869), by James Tissot. 26 ½ by 18 ¾ in. (67.3 by 47.6). Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, U.K. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

At the Rifle Range (1869) was offered for sale by the London banker Murrieta at Christie’s, London in 1883 as The Crack Shot, for £220.10s but failed to find a buyer at that price.  In 1934, it again was offered for sale at Christie’s, sold as The Rifle Range to prominent art dealer Arthur Tooth for £52.10s.  By 1936, it was at the Leicester Galleries in London, where it was purchased by Captain Bambridge the following year.  Captain George Bambridge (1892 – 1943), a British diplomat, was married to Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, Elsie (1896 – 1976).  Between 1933 and 1937, George and Elsie lived at Burgh House in Hampstead.  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.  Click here to see At the Rifle Range in this virtual tour of Mrs. Bambridge’s study – and if you look closely, you’ll also see a Tissot oil painting of his mistress and muse Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882) on the wall to the left of At the Rifle Range.  It’s A Study for “By Water”: Kathleen Kelly, Mrs.  Isaac Newton, c. 1880 (oil on panel, 12 ¼ by 10 in. /31.1 by 25.4 cm).

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot. 28 7/8 by 21 1/4 in. /73.4 by 53.9 cm. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, by Lucy Paquette © 2012

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot. 28 7/8 by 21 1/4 in. (73.4 by 53.9 cm). The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, by Lucy Paquette © 2012

Hide and Seek (1877) shows Kathleen Newton reading in his studio while her nieces and children play at his spacious home at 17 (now 44), Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood. The painting was sold at Christie’s, London in 1957 for $ 2,379/£ 850, then at Sotheby’s, London in 1963 for $ 6,159/£ 2,200.  Mrs. C. Behr, London, owned it until at least 1967, after which it belonged to Julian Spiro, Esq.  In 1976, it was sold at Christie’s, London for $ 33,002/£ 20,000, and in 1978, Hide and Seek was purchased from the Herman Shickman Gallery, New York with the Chester Dale Fund by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

One morning in 1979, as staff was arriving at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, a man approached them saying he had a rare and valuable painting by French painter James Tissot that he wished to sell them.  When they told the museum director of this claim, he reacted with disbelief and was inclined to send the man away.  The painting, worth £ 30,000, was Tissot’s portrait of Mrs. Catherine Smith Gill and Two of her Children (1877).  It was one of the largest works the artist ever had produced.

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

Mrs. Gill’s husband, 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].  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.  Tissot lived at the red sandstone mansion for eight weeks while painting the portrait, in which he depicts Catherine with her two-year-old son Robert Carey and six-year-old daughter Helen; she was to have another boy and two more girls.  It is family lore that Tissot and Catherine developed “a mutual affinity,” though Kathleen Newton had been in his life (and residing at his St. John’s Wood home) for the past year or two.

The portrait was purchased, with the aid of contributions from the National Art Collections Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, 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.  Click here for an interactive view of it.

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

The articles published on this blog are copyrighted by Lucy Paquette.  An article or any portion of it may not be reproduced in any medium or transmitted in any form, electronic or mechanical, without the author’s permission.  You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement to the author. 

Related posts:

James Tissot in the Roaring ‘20s

Tissot’s Comeback in the 1930s

James Tissot in the 1940s: La Mystérieuse is identified

James Tissot in the era of Abstract Expressionism

James Tissot and the Revival of Victorian Art in the 1960s


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Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library

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