James Tissot’s popularity boom in the 1980s

To cite this article: Paquette, Lucy. “James Tissot’s popularity boom in the 1980s.” The Hammock. https://thehammocknovel.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/james-tissots-popularity-boom-in-the-1980s/. <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.

Victorian art, which included the work of James Tissot, was rediscovered in the 1960s and quickly gained popularity in the 1970s – just in time for the Thatcher years, 1979 – 1990. Sydney Morning Herald columnist John McDonald wrote, “During that decade [the 1980s]…the new rich hastened to acquire all the trappings of wealth, and grand Victorian paintings were once again on the menu.”

But Victorian paintings weren’t popular only in the United Kingdom.  American publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes (1919 – 1990), who with his college-age son, Kip, began collecting Victorian paintings in 1969, exhibited a portion of his collection in 1981:  “32 Victorian Paintings from the Forbes Magazine Collection” at The Fine Art Society, Glasgow.  The show included Tissot’s “Good-bye” – On the Mersey, which Malcolm Forbes had purchased at Christie’s, London, in 1970.  ”The 80’s were a decade when businessmen were celebrities, and Malcolm fit into that well,” a colleague later observed.

Le banc de jardin (The Garden Bench, 1882), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 99.1 by 142.2 cm. Private collection. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

American millionaire Frederick Koch (b. 1933) also began collecting Victorian paintings in the 1980s.  One of four brothers and heirs to Koch Industries, the family oil conglomerate, Frederick sold his stake to two of his brothers for over $700 million in 1983.  The Yale Drama graduate funded almost £ 2 million toward the full refurbishment of Shakespeare’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 1980s, and he began collecting rare books, opera manuscripts, and fine art.

James Tissot’s Le banc de jardin (The Garden Bench, c. 1882) set an auction price record in 1983, when Fred Koch paid $ 803,660/£ 520,000 for it at Christie’s, London.  This was a favorite image of Tissot’s, depicting his happy half-dozen years with his mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), and her children in his garden; the artist kept it all his life.

Koch built a superb collection of Victorian paintings, which he intended for a museum in the heart of London by 1986.  But he was refused permission by Westminster Council and English Heritage to turn historic St. John’s Lodge in Regent’s Park into a museum.  He put the paintings, including Tissot’s L’Orpheline, in storage.  

American oil executive and arts patron Charles B. Wrightsman (1895 – 1986), who used to entertain U.S. President John F. Kennedy at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, purchased Tissot’s Spring Morning (Matinée de printemps, c. 1875) at Sotheby’s, Belgravia for $ 89,972/£ 40,000 in 1981.  Later that year, Mr. Wrightsman and his wife, Jayne (b. 1919) purchased In the Conservatory (The Rivals) from the Richard Green Gallery, London.  In 1983, Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol (1915 – 1985), sold Tissot’s En plein soleil (c. 1881) to Stair Sainty Gallery, London, where it was purchased that year by the Wrightsmans.  Upon Mr. Wrightsman’s death in 1986, the pictures became the sole property of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman.

In the spring of 1984, London’s Tate Gallery held “The Pre-Raphaelites,” the first comprehensive exhibition of their work.  It turned Australian businessman John Schaeffer on to Victorian art.  “It really opened my eyes,” he said.  In the decades that followed, Schaeffer has continued to build his collection.  “I have traditional tastes…and love narrative,” he has said. “I like beautiful things, and I don’t like modern or contemporary art.”  Along with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Schaeffer is recognized as one of the world’s foremost collectors of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Lucy in London, 1984 (2)

Entranced by the Pre-Raphaelites in London, 1984.

As an undergraduate, studying art history in London, I was mesmerized by the Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition and spent a great deal of time in the galleries.  In fact, I completely missed The Barbican Art Gallery’s major exhibition, “James Tissot, 1836-1902” that year (the exhibition, curated by Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, included one hundred eighty-five works and travelled from London to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris).

Four years later, in 1988, the Isetan Museum of Art in Tokyo, held James Tissot.

Though Tissot’s oil paintings were worth a great deal on the art market, five more entered public collections in the 1980s – all in the United States – though another was deaccessioned in this decade.

July (Speciman of a Portrait, 1878), by James Tissot. Oil on fabric, 34 7/16 by 24 in./87.5 by 61 cm. Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio. (Photo: Wikimedia)

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.  It is one in a series representing months of the year, and the figure is modeled by Kathleen Newton.  At some point, another artist painted a frizzy red hairstyle (probably considered more up-to-date) on Mrs. Newton.  In 1980, the painting was donated to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio at the bequest of Noah L. Butkin.  It currently is on view in Gallery 220.

The Artists’ Ladies (1885), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 57 1/2 by 40 in. (146.1 by 101.6 cm). The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Shortly after Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis in 1882, James Tissot left London and returned to Paris.  During his eleven years in London, he had declined Edgar Degas’ invitation to show his work with the artists who became known as the Impressionists.  Making his comeback in Paris in 1885, Tissot displayed a set of fifteen paintings at the Galerie Sedelmeyer called La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman). 

One of them, The Artists’ Wives (also called The Artists’ Ladies, 1885) depicts a gathering of artists and their wives on Varnishing Day, the evening before the official opening of the Salon, the annual art exhibition in Paris at the Palais de l’Industrie.

By 1981, the painting was with M. Knoedler and Co. in New York.  It was a gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., and The Grandy Fund, Landmark Communications Fund, and “An Affair to Remember” to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1981.  It is on view.

The Fan (1875), by James Tissot. 15 by 19 in. (38.10 by 48.26 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

The Fan (1875) simultaneously demonstrates Tissot’s facility depicting plant life, fashion, female beauty and japonisme.  It was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1982 for $ 73,974/£ 42,000 to Charles Jerdein (1916 – 1999).  Jerdein was the trainer who officially received the credit when thoroughbred Gilles de Retz landed the 2,000 Guineas in 1956; the Jockey Club did not recognize the female trainer, Helen Johnson-Houghton.  Jerdein left Mrs. Johnson-Houghton’s operation that year, trained on his own for a short time, then concentrated on his business as an art dealer in London, though he occasionally had a horse in training in Newmarket.  By the early 1960s, Jerdein had pioneered the market for paintings by James Tissot’s friend, the Dutch-born Victorian painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), before Alma-Tadema’s name became associated with the American television personality who collected his work, Allen Funt of “Candid Camera.”

Shortly after he purchased it, Jerdein sold The Fan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, which was able to acquire it due to the generosity of The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund.  In 2013, The Fan was in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s “Old Masters to Monet” exhibition, one of fifty master works of French art spanning three centuries from the Wadsworth’s collection.  The Fan next was on display at the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition, “Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum,” during the winter of 2013 – 2014.  The painting is not currently on display at the Wadsworth.

Study for “Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool” (c. 1877-78), by James Tissot. Oil on mahogancy panel, 12 ¾ by 16 ¾ in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), Richmond, Virginia. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

Study for “Mrs. Newton with a Child by a Pool” (c. 1877-78) depicts Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly Newton in the garden of Tissot’s home in St. John’s Wood, London.  This lively oil sketch was given to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia by the American collectors and philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon in 1983.  It usually is on view, but the gallery it is in is closed for repairs through the next few months.


Young Women looking at Japanese articles, 1869 (oil on canvas) by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902); 27 3/4 by 19 3/4 in. (70.5 by 50.2 cm); Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, USA; Gift of Henry M. Goodyear, M.D. 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

Tissot had left his home in Nantes, a seaport on the west coast of France, at age 19 before his birthday in 1856.  In Paris, the young artist started out renting a succession of student rooms in the Latin Quarter.   With his increasing success, he began a collection of Japanese art and objets, and by late 1867 or early 1868, he moved into a villa he had built on the prestigious avenue de l’Impératrice (now avenue Foch).  [Read more about Tissot’s villa here.]

In 1869, Tissot assimilated pieces from his art collection into elegant compositions in three similar paintings featuring young women looking at Japanese objects in his villa’s lavish interiors filled with Oriental carpets, furniture, fabrics, carvings, vases and wall hangings.

By the 1930s, the version above was hanging in an interior decorator’s store on Third Street in Cincinnati and was purchased by Dr. Henry M. Goodyear; he and his wife gifted Tissot’s picture to the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1984.

One public collection, also in the U.S., de-accessioned a Tissot oil in this decade.  The Newark Museum, in Newark, New Jersey, sold Sur la Tamise (Return from Henley), which it had received from a donor in 1926.  To benefit the museum’s acquisition fund, the picture was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1985 for $ 370,000/£ 293,860.

Scholars enhanced interest in Tissot’s life and work during the 1980s.  In 1982, Tissot scholar Willard E. Misfeldt (b. 1930) published The Albums of James Tissot, a partial record of Tissot’s work from available photograph albums that the artist maintained.  The catalogue from the Barbican’s 1984 Tissot exhibition, edited by curator Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, included eight scholarly essays on Tissot and varying aspects of his art as well as images of and commentary on the works displayed.  Michael Wentworth (1938 – 2002), who had established himself as the world’s leading Tissot scholar by 1978, published the most comprehensive biography of Tissot to date, James Tissot, in 1984.  Two years later, Victorian art expert Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009), published Tissot:  The Life and Work of Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902.

James Tissot, 1873, The Return from the Boating Trip, the-athenaeum

The Return from the Boating Trip (1873), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, oil on panel, 24 by 17 in. (60.96 by 43.18 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: the-athenaeum.org)

Dozens of Tissot oils changed hands during from 1980-89:

The Return from the Boating Trip (1873) was sold at Christie’s, London in 1982 for $ 31,852/£ 20,000.

The Bunch of Lilacs (c. 1875), by James Tissot.  Image 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

The Bunch of Lilacs (c. 1875), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 21 by 15 in. (53.34 by 38.10 cm). Private Collection. Image 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

The Bunch of Lilacs (1875) was sold at Christie’s, London in 1975 for $ 15,249/£ 7,000.  In 1982, it was sold again at the same auction house for $ 134,235/£ 75,000.

Algernon Moses Marsden (1877), by James Tissot. 19 by 29 in. (48.26 by 73.66 cm). Private collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tissot’s 1877 Portrait of Algernon Moses Marsden, which, was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1971 for $4,838/£2,000, was sold at Christie’s, London for $65,677/£45,000 in 1983.  [See Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?]

James Tissot, 1882, the-dreamer-summer-evening

The Dreamer, by James Tissot. Musée d’Orsay. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

James Tissot painted Kathleen Newton in the study above [called The Dreamer] in 1878, selling it for £206 as Rêverie at the Dudley Gallery in London. In the 1920s, a man bought it “for a few pounds.”  In 1984, the man’s daughter brought the picture to a valuation day at Woodbridge Community Hall in Suffolk, England.  She had no idea what it was, but said, “It has been on the wall for as long as I can remember.  My dad always used to poke around the sale rooms and this just came home.  I can’t remember when.  The story always was that he bought it because it reminded him of my mother, they both had the same auburn colored hair.  Nobody knew anything about it in the family.  We had it re-framed, and while it was at the framer’s somebody offered us £600 for it and so we thought we should get it looked at professionally.”  A Sotheby’s representative at the valuation day said, “I remember turning round to say something to my secretary and when I turned back again this gentleman had put the picture down on the table in front of me.  I remember taking one look at it and thinking to myself, “My God, a Tissot.”

The 1878 oil study, measuring 11 by 17 in. (27.94 by 43.18 cm), was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1984 as Rêverie for $ 38,678/£ 32,000.

Reading the News (1874) was sold at Christie’s, London in 1947 for $ 1,168/£ 290 – and then in 1983 for $ 252,892/£ 170,000.  Just six years later, it was sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1989 for $ 1,250,000/£ 797,295 –  at that time, the highest auction price on record for an oil painting by Tissot.

Reading the News (1874), by James Tissot. 34 by 20 in. (86.36 by 50.80 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)


Related posts:

James Tissot in the era of Abstract Expressionism

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

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

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