Monthly Archives: September 2014

A visit to James Tissot’s house & Kathleen Newton’s grave

On a sunny September afternoon, a black cab brought my husband and me to the gate at James Tissot’s former home in London, in Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood.  Built in 1825, the house was No. 17 when Tissot lived in it from early 1873 to late 1882; it now is No. 44.

IMG_5043, to use on blogBehind the glossy wooden gate is a graveled courtyard and parking area, and it was bustling with the household staff of a couple with four sons, who bought the house in 2006.

We were ushered through a covered, colonnaded access way to the front door, where we were met by the lady of the house.  Unpretentious and kind, she earned a degree from the University of Richmond – a 15-minute drive from my home in Virginia.  She offered us refreshments and graciously showed us through her home.  She once had lived nearby, had always admired the house, and was intrigued when it came on the market in 2006, for the first time since the mid-1950s.

The house had been renovated and returned to an imposing, single-family dwelling in 2003.  [See James Tissot’s house at St. John’s Wood, London.]

When the house went up for sale, The Sunday Times [London] reported:

“It is spread over four floors, relatively few for a property of this size, and the ground and first floors are a sprawling 5,000 square feet per floor.  There are seven bedroom suites (with space for en-suite bathrooms and dressing rooms); a three storey-high artist’s studio with enormous windows; five large reception rooms (the main one leading to a conservatory); billiard room; security room; staff living quarters; a kitchen; countless storage rooms and a lift.  All the main reception rooms are on the ground floor.  All up, it’s 16,000 square feet and, with the garden, measures 0.6 of an acre.”

Bathrooms and a kitchen needed to be installed, and a great number of other renovations were necessary.

When James Tissot moved into the house in early in 1873, it was a medium-sized, two-storey Queen Anne villa.  In 1875, Tissot built an extension with a studio and huge conservatory that doubled the size of his house.  Eight years later, after the funeral of his young mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), Tissot moved to Paris.  See James Tissot’s garden idyll & Kathleen Newton’s death.

IMG_5040, shot to use on blogThrough an agent, the painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema purchased the house in 1883, moved into it in mid-1885, and began extensive remodeling to enlarge and modify it into an Italianate mansion appropriate for his popular paintings of ancient Rome.

He built a three-story studio, capped with a semi-circular dome covered in aluminum, which gave a silvery tone to his paintings.

Alma-Tadema died in 1912, and the house was converted to apartments in the 1920s.  It later fell into disrepair and ended up on English Heritage’s “at risk” register.  In 1975, the property was marked with a blue plaque in honor of Alma-Tadema’s residence.

The property has been a Grade II listed building since 1987:  Grade II listed buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest.  A listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority.  The current owners followed strict guidelines in their remodeling and upgrades.  You can see some of the results at

Now, elegant white walls are punctuated by wide Victorian doors of dark, polished wood, and here and there are built-in wooden cabinets and painted 19th-century cupboards.  The doors were found in the basement and reattached, and the cabinets and cupboards are protected by the property’s Grade II status.  The artistic mottoes that Alma-Tadema painted over a few thresholds remain, and the lady of the house has a soft spot for these sentiments about the joy of friends and conviviality.  Her home, decorated in a modern, minimalist style with contemporary art, perfectly marries Victorian touches with the owners’ taste:  one door is flanked by Alma-Tadema’s exotic, red-patterned ceramic tiles, and our hostess found a china pattern that echoes them.  Her husband initially was not keen on living in a Victorian house, but has grown to love it as well.  It is very much a comfortable family home exuding hospitality.

The dining area, also painted white, is clearly a Victorian space, with its dark mantel, ceiling beams and towering cabinetry.  The original, hefty bronze door rings are charming.

The centerpiece of the house is the room, now a spacious reception area, which was Alma-Tadema’s three-storey studio, with its huge, half-domed apse that faces slightly northeast.  He had covered it with aluminum, and the effect has been recreated with squares of aluminum leaf that also meld with the current décor.  The owners also recreated Alma-Tadema’s long, Romanesque frieze across the balcony overlooking the studio.

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot.

Hide and Seek (1877), by James Tissot.

It was challenging for me to observe any presence of James Tissot’s gorgeously cluttered Victorian home in this sprawling, immaculately modern dwelling with an underground swimming pool and spa.  As we followed our hostess up stairways and down shorter flights of steps, and through halls and nooks, I felt disoriented as I struggled to glimpse the footprint of the studio extension that Tissot constructed in 1875.  Looking out the windows did not help, as the garden is much smaller now than it was when the house was Tissot’s.  The pool, on the eastern side of the house, which Tissot painted so often was buried during the renovations due to its dilapidated condition.  But as I again descended the steps from Alma-Tadema’s grand studio and faced a small, sun-lit conservatory, I suddenly felt a sense of déjà vu.  The conservatory has a monstera tree that our hostess chose to have planted there because of a specimen she had seen in The Regent’s Park.  Only later did she realize it is the exact tree that appears in many of Tissot’s oil paintings, such as In the Conservatory (Rivals), The Bunch of Lilacs, and Dans la serre.  She said the coincidence makes her shiver.

In the Conservatory (Rivals), . 1875, by James Tissot. Note the monstera plant in the background on the left. (Photo:

She generously invited my husband and me to linger and have another look at any part of the house we wished to see again.  It was the garden I wanted to study more closely, but try as I might, I could discern little resemblance to the colonnaded idyll that Tissot created in 1875.

Rather than being a museum, the house where James Tissot and Lawrence Alma-Tadema lived and painted is alive and lovingly cared for by people who respect the home’s history and are sensitive to the interest in the building.  In addition, the current owners run a charitable foundation from the house which provides opportunities for bright people from the developing world, especially the Middle East, to have a good education and also supports a number of humanitarian causes.

We thanked our hostess for sharing her time and her home with us and were shown by staff back through the labyrinth of rooms to the front of the house.

That day, we also explored some sites associated with Kathleen Kelly.

Church of Our Lady, 1

Church of Our Lady, Lisson Grove, built in 1836.

Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly Newton, Tissot’s beguiling mistress, died of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882, at age 28, at Tissot’s house with her sister, Polly Hervey, at her side (according to the death register).  Tissot draped the coffin in purple velvet and prayed beside it for hours.  Immediately after the funeral on November 14, at the Church of Our Lady in Lisson Grove, St. John’s Wood, Tissot returned to Paris.

For those of you who are Beatles fans, Tissot’s former home is just steps away from the crossing at Abbey Road, made famous by the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, released in 1969 and still the band’s best-selling album.

IMG_5050, use on blog

6 Hill Road



We crossed Abbey Road to find the house that Kathleen Newton lived in when she met James Tissot around 1875 or 1876, when she was staying with her married sister, Mary Pauline “Polly” Ashburnham Kelly Hervey (1851/52 – 1896), and her husband and children at 6 Hill Road.

Click here to see an 1871 London map showing Grove End Road in relation to Hill Road.

The Church of Our Lady is further south, and St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery is at Kensal Green, west of St. John’s Wood.

Kathleen Newton’s grave is located a short walk from the cemetery office; the cemetery superintendent led us there.

Gravestone, closeup 2You would have to know where to look for plot 2903A, because it is difficult to read the name on the grave.

Also, the standing cross has fallen, and its disintegrating pieces are laid over the grave.

Just to the left are two similar graves from 1893 and 1894, and they are in excellent shape with the crosses still standing, but there are other nearby graves in the same condition as Kathleen Newton’s.

We found her grave covered with weeds, but I had come prepared with a pair of disposable gloves and cleared it as best as I was able.  It took a fair bit of time, and some of the growth was too prickly to remove.

Grave, weedy

Kathleen Newton’s grave as we found it.



The grave after the weeds were pulled.


IMG_5038, shot to use on blog

IMG_5035, use on blog

Kathleen Newton’s grave, under the chestnut tree to the far right, between the tall cross and the raised tomb.

Arched over Kathleen’s grave are the branches of a lovely chestnut tree – the same tree that James Tissot painted over her in life in pictures including Holyday and October.  She was loved and celebrated, and though her grave is neglected and dilapidated, her beauty and her name will live forever.

That afternoon was unforgettable and a highlight of our week in the U.K.

Related posts:

Tissot in the Conservatory

Kathleen Newton by James Tissot: eight auctioned oil paintings

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you may download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones, tablets, and the Kindle Cloud Reader to read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.  Read reviews.

The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library

(295 pages; ISBN (ePub):  978-0-615-68267-9).    See



James Tissot in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection

Award-winning musical theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948) became interested in Victorian art at the age of eight.  As he achieved success with his musicals, Evita (1976), Cats (1981), Phantom of the Opera (1986) and Sunset Boulevard (1993), he began to collect Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

His collection of Victorian art, assembled over a period of forty years and now one of the world’s largest in private hands, includes works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Giovanni Boldini, and James Tissot.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992, Lord Lloyd-Webber spent 10 million on paintings during three weeks in 1994, according to the London Telegraph.

All the Tissot paintings in his collection are from the artist’s London period, 1871-1882, and were purchased in the 1990s.

As of 1989, the highest auction price on record for an oil painting by James Tissot was Reading the News (1874) sold at Sotheby’s, New York that year for $ 1,250,000/£ 797,295.

L’Orpheline (Orphans) (1879), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 85 by 43 in./216 by 109.2 cm. Private Collection. (Photo:

On February 18, 1993, Christie’s, New York offered two major Tissot oil paintings at its sale of 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors.  One of them, L’Orpheline (Orphans, 1879), features Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882) and was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879.  L’Orpheline beat the 1989 record for a Tissot oil – bringing $2,700,000/£ 1,867,865 from Lloyd-Webber.  [The second painting was Jeune femme chantant a l’orgue/Young Woman Singing at the Organ.]

Quiet (c. 1878/79), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 13 by 9 in./33.02 by 22.86 cm. Private Collection. (Photo:

Quiet (c. 1881) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.  It 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 November, 1993, selling to Lloyd Webber at Christie’s, London for $ 416,220/£ 280,000.  In perfect condition, it shows Kathleen Newton and her niece, Lilian Hervey (1875 – 1952) in the garden of Tissot’s house at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, in north London.  It was Lilian Hervey who, in 1946, publicly identified “La Mystérieuse” – the Mystery Woman – as her aunt, Kathleen Newton.

Uncle Fred (Frederick Kelly with his niece Lilian Hervey, 1879-80), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 7 by 12 in./17.78 by 30.48 cm. Private Colletion. (Photo:

Uncle Fred (Kathleen Newton’s brother, Frederick Kelly, with his niece Lilian Hervey, 1879-80), previously had been in a private collection in Besançon, France.  Lloyd Webber purchased the painting at Sotheby’s, New York in February, 1994 for $ 320,000/£ 216,802.  It was Frederick Kelly, incidentally, who arranged Kathleen’s marriage to Isaac Newton, a surgeon in the Indian Civil Service on January 3, 1871, when she was seventeen.

The marriage ended in divorce within months, and Mrs. Newton returned to England.  She gave birth to a daughter at the end of the year, and a son in 1876, the year by which she began living with James Tissot in London.

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

American millionaire Frederick Koch (b. 1933) began collecting Victorian paintings in the 1980s.  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 Kathleen Newton and her children in his garden; the artist kept it all his life.  Pictured are Mrs. Newton, her daughter Violet (1871 – 1933), her son Cecil George (1876 – 1941), and a second girl who could be her niece Lilian Hervey or her niece Belle (behind the bench).  [See Was Cecil Newton James Tissot’s son?]

Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882.  [See James Tissot’s garden idyll & Kathleen Newton’s death.]

In October, 1994, Le Banc de jardin set another record for a Victorian picture – as well as a record to date for a Tissot painting – when Lloyd Webber purchased it from Fred Koch for $ 4,800,000/£ 3,035,093 at Sotheby’s, New York.

The Widower (c. 1877), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 14 by 9 in. (35.56 by 22.86 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

Lloyd Webber purchased The Widower (c. 1887), which Tissot exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, at Sotheby’s, London in November, 1994 for $ 122,587/£ 75,000.

The Captain and the Mate, (1873), by James Tissot.  Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, © 2012

The Captain and the Mate, (1873), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 53.6 by 76.2 cm. Private Collection. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, © 2012

The Captain and the Mate (1873) features 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.  Margaret’s older brother, red-bearded Captain Lumley Kennedy (b. 1819), and her sister posed as well.  Tissot exhibited The Captain’s Daughter, The Last Evening and Too Early [both at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London] at the Royal Academy in 1873.

Lloyd Webber acquired The Captain and the Mate in 1995.  It is one of two paintings featuring Margaret Kennedy in private collections [the other is Boarding the Yacht (1873)].

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

The Return from the Boating Trip (1873), one of dozens of Tissot oils that changed hands during the 1980s, was sold at Christie’s, London in 1982 for $ 31,852/£ 20,000.  It was acquired by Lloyd Webber in 1995.

“Good bye” – On the Mersey (c. 1881), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 33 by 21 in. (83.82 by 53.34 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

Lloyd Webber acquired “Goodbye” – On the Mersey, which depicts well-wishers on a small local ferry waving at a Cunad steamer setting sail from the port of Liverpool, in 1997.  It is one of two known versions painted by Tissot, the other, larger of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 and was sold from The Forbes Collection in 2003 to a private collector.

Of course, the Tissot paintings form just a fraction of Lloyd Webber’s collection of Victorian art, but he owns more Tissot oils than the Tate Gallery in London.

A 1995 plan for putting his collection on permanent public view, in a gallery on the South Bank within a new £50 million arts complex designed by Sir Richard Rogers and entirely funded by Lloyd Webber’s theater operating company, the Really Useful Group, was dropped.

But Lord Lloyd-Webber and his wife, Madeleine, lent about three-quarters of their collection – some 200 paintings – to London’s Royal Academy of Arts for “Pre-Raphaelite and other masters:  the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection,” from September  20 to December 12, 2003.  The collection is unlikely ever to be shown again, though Lloyd Webber has said, “I hope that after my death my family will be able to find a way to exhibit the best of my collection on a more permanent basis.”

In 2011, Lord Lloyd-Webber discussed his passion for the Pre-Raphaelites in a British television documentary, aired as part of the “Perspectives” series.  You can view this hour-long program, “A Passion for the Pre-Raphaelites,” in 15-minute increments by clicking the following links:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Related posts:

James Tissot oils at auction: Seven favorites

Kathleen Newton by James Tissot: eight auctioned oil paintings

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

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

James Tissot’s popularity boom in the 1980s

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you may download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones, tablets, and the Kindle Cloud Reader to read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.  Read reviews.

The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library

(295 pages; ISBN (ePub):  978-0-615-68267-9).    See