Monthly Archives: October 2014

Celebrities & Millionaires Vie for Tissot’s Paintings in the 1990s

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.

Despite the exploding art prices for James Tissot’s oil paintings in the 1980s, there still were some bargains to be had in the early 1990s.

Going to business (Going to the City), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 17 by 7 in. (43.18 by 17.78 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

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.  Their collection was widely exhibited.  After her husband’s death in 1988, Mrs. McCormick, a former pianist, sold a portion of the collection through Sotheby’s, New York in 1990.  Tissot’s diminutive Going to Business (c. 1879), estimated at $250,000 to $300,000, sold for $ 180,000/£ 106,559.

In 1991, the most colorful celebrity ever to own an oil painting by James Tissot purchased A Type of Beauty (1880).  This portrait of Tissot’s young mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), had sold at Sotheby’s, New York in early 1989 for $ 675,000/£ 385,560, but on October 25, 1991, it was purchased at Christie’s, London for only $ 273,760/£ 160,000 by rock star Freddie Mercury, of the band Queen.  [A big thanks to @stefan_buc on Twitter, who brought this fact to my attention, along with documentation.]  The painting was displayed in Mercury’s London home, Garden Lodge, a twenty-eight room Georgian mansion in Kensington amid a large garden surrounded by a high brick wall.  Freddie Mercury died at 45 on November 24, 1991.  In his will, he left Garden Lodge, worth £10 million, to his friend Mary Austin (b. 1951).

A Type of Beauty – Portrait of Kathleen Newton (1880), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 23 by 18 in. (58.42 by 45.72 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

Tissot’s title can be explained by a painting by another painting of the era.  For an exhibition called “Female Beauty,” The Graphic magazine commissioned paintings in 1880 by twelve artists including James Tissot, Frederic Leighton, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Marcus Stone.  Alma-Tadema’s picture was titled Interrupted – A Type of Feminine Beauty.  It was a portrait of his second wife, Laura Theresa Epps (1852 – 1909), seated in the sitting room of their London home, Townshend House, holding a copy of The Graphic.

Interestingly, The Graphic tried to sell Tissot’s A Type of Beauty in February, 1882 at Christie’s, London, but no one wanted it at the minimum bid of £ 67 4s!

In early 1993, Victorian art expert Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009) commented on the popularity of James Tissot’s oil paintings among Manhattan Society hostesses:  “I can think of ten to twenty Tissots within a few blocks of each other in New York.”

So there was great excitement in New York that year on Wednesday, February 17 and Thursday, February 18, when Sotheby’s offered three major Tissot paintings, and Christie’s two.

The three paintings at Sotheby’s, from Tissot’s series of fifteen large-scale pictures called La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman) painted between 1883 and 1885, were being sold by Toronto collectors Joey and Toby Tanenbaum.

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 and has built his fortune through real estate and hydroelectric power.  He and his wife, Toby, bought Tissot oil paintings 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.  By 1993, as their interest shifted to Old Master paintings, especially Spanish and Italian works of the 17th century, and antiquities, they were running out of ready cash to develop their collection.  They put their three Tissot oil paintings up for sale through Sotheby’s, New York and hoped to beat the record price for a Tissot, $1,250,000/£ 797,295, set in 1989 at the same auction house for Reading the News (1874).

The Tanenbaums also said they sold the works rather than donate them to a museum because of recent decisions by Canada’s Cultural Properties Review Board.

The Tanenbaums’ three Femme à Paris paintings, each valued by Sotheby’s at $ 1.2-2 USD (£ 800,000-1.3 million), were:

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:

‘La Mondaine’ – Woman of Fashion, sold for $ 1,800,000/£ 1,246,105.

Study for "Le Sphinx," by James Tissot. Courtesy

Study for “Le Sphinx,” by James Tissot. Private Collection. Courtesy

Study for ‘Le Sphinx’ – Woman in Interior, sold for $ 800,000/£ 553,824.

Sans Dot (Without Dowry), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 58 by 41 in. (147.32 by 104.14 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

‘Sans Dot’ – Without Dowry, sold for $ 800,000/£ 553,824.

The next day, at Christie’s, Tissot’s Jeune femme chantant à l’orgue (Young Woman Singing at the Organ), sold for $ 100,000/£ 69,180.  L’Orpheline (Orphans), the better of Christie’s two Tissots, was expected to bring $ 600,000- 800,000 (£ 400,000- 530,000).  It set a new record for a Tissot oil when sold for $ 2,700,000/£ 1,867,865 to art dealer David Mason, with MacConnal-Mason, a fourth generation gallery in St. James established in 1893.  Mason buys for musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948), who in the next decade would collect some of Tissot’s best work – at very high prices.

Beginning in 1993, American oil millionaire Fred Koch (b. 1933) sold his collection of Victorian paintings over several months.  “Very few of the great paintings in that collection got past Andrew,” said one dealer.  Lloyd Webber’s purchases from the Koch Collection include James Tissot’s Le banc de jardin (The Garden Bench), which he purchased in 1994 for $ 4,800,000/£ 3,035,093, a new record for the artist.  [See James Tissot in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection.]  

Quiet (c. 1881), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 13 by 9 in. (33.02 by 22.86 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

In early November, 1993, a small painting by Tissot appeared on the market.  Quiet (c. 1881) originally 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 of Kathleen Newton and her niece, Lilian Hervey in the garden of Tissot’s house at 17 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, in north London, remained in the family, in perfect condition, until it was sold for $ 416,220/£ 280,000.

Chrysanthemums (c. 1874-76), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 46 by 30 in. (116.84 by 76.20 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. (Photo:

Chrysanthemums (c. 1874-76) was another Tissot oil sold from a long-held private collection as prices for the artist’s work surged in the 1990s.  It originally was purchased by British cotton magnate, MP and contemporary art collector Edward Hermon (1822 – 1881) by 1877, the year his only daughter was married.  In 1882, Hermon’s estate sold it through Christie’s, London to the prominent art dealership Arthur Tooth and Son.  The painting next belonged to Surgeon-Major (the ranking surgeon of a regiment in the British Army) John Ewart Martin, South Africa and remained in a private collection of his descendants in South Africa until sold through Phillips, London, in December, 1993, to the Christopher Wood Gallery, London, for $ 372,125/£ 250,000.  The painting was sold by that gallery to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1994.

Mavourneen (Portrait of Kathleen Newton), 1877. Oil on canvas, 36 by 20 in. (91.44 by 50.80 cm). Private Collection. Photo courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” © 2012 by Lucy Paquette

Tissot’s 1877 Mavourneen (Portrait of Kathleen Newton) had been in a private collection in Australia before it was purchased by Theodore Bruce, Adelaide, at Christie’s in 1984.  By the next year, it was with the Owen Edgar Gallery, London.  In 1995, it was sold to an American collector at Christie’s, New York for $ 2,300,000/£ 1,433,915.  The painting, in which Mrs. Newton wears the same ensemble as she does in October (1877), was last exhibited at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington from November 28, 2006 through March 30, 2007.  Kathleen Mavourneen was a popular love song of the time (“mavourneen” means “my darling”), as well as a play by William Travers, which enjoyed a revival at the Globe Theatre in July, 1876.

A Winter’s Walk (Promenade dans la neige) (c. 1878), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 31.10 by 14.57 in. (79.00 by 37 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

The exquisite A Winter’s Walk (Promenade dans la neige) (c. 1878) has belonged to a number of private collectors over the decades, beginning with J.C. Haslam Esq., 32 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, London, whose executors sold it at Christie’s in 1900 to London-based art dealer Arthur Tooth.  By 1937, it was owned by Mrs. Bannister, and by 1956 by Henry (Harry) Talbot de Vere Clifton, Lytham Hall, Lancashire.  Christie’s sold it once again in 1965, to Leger Galleries, London.  It was in a private collection when it was sold by Sotheby’s, London in 1996, to another collector, for $619,160/£ 400,000.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wall Street magnate John Langeloth Loeb (1902-1996) and his wife, Frances “Peter” Lehman Loeb (1907-1996), former New York City Commissioner to the United Nations, began to form what would become, over the next four decades, one of the greatest private art collections in the United States.  The Loebs bought paintings from well-known New York dealers, especially Knoedler and Company, and at auctions in New York and abroad.  They displayed them in their Park Avenue apartment, which they opened to curators as well as art historians and their students.

La cheminée/The Fireside (c. 1869), by James Tissot. 20 by 13 in. (50.80 by 33.02 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

The Loebs acquired James Tissot’s La Cheminée/By the Fireside (c. 1869) from Knoedler and Company on January 31, 1955 and Dans la serre (In the Conservatory, 1867-69) from The Fine Arts Society, London on October 7, 1957.  Both paintings almost certainly depict the interior of Tissot’s sumptuous villa on the avenue de l’impératrice (now avenue Foch) in Paris, which he moved into in early 1868.

Dans la serre (In the Conservatory, by James Tissot. (1867-69), 28 x 16 in. (71.12 x 40.64 cm.). Courtesy

Dans la serre (In the Conservatory, 1867-69, by James Tissot. 28 by 16 in. (71.12 by 40.64 cm). Private Collection. Courtesy

When the Loeb Collection of twenty-nine French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, drawings and sculptures by twenty-one artists including Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Gauguin, van Gogh and Picasso was sold at Christie’s, New York in 1997, it brought $92.7 million.

Dans la serre sold for $ 440,000/£ 270,986.  American stockbroker Jerome Davis purchased La cheminée for $ 1,700,000/£ 1,046,991.

Tea (1872), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 26 by 18 7/8 in. (66 by 47.9 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Photo:

Tea (1872) was one of Tissot’s eighteenth-century paintings calculated to appeal to British collectors once he had moved to London in mid-1871, following the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune.  Tea was in a private collection in Rome, Italy in 1968.  It was with Somerville & Simpson, Ltd., London, by 1979-81, when it was consigned to Mathiessen Fine Art Ltd., London.  It was purchased from Mathiessen by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York.  Upon Mr. Wrightsman’s death in 1986, Mrs. Wrightsman (b. 1919) owned it until 1998, when she gifted it to the Met.  Tea recently was put on display at the Met, in Gallery 815.

As of 1998, there were only seventy-four oil paintings by James Tissot in public art collections worldwide:  twenty-three in the U.K., two in the Republic of Ireland, sixteen in France, twenty-one in the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico, six in Canada, one in India, two in Australia, and two in New Zealand.

Still on Top (c. 1874), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 88 by 54 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, New Zealand. (Photo:

Tissot’s Still on Top (c. 1874), is in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki  in New Zealand, the gift of British industrialist and politician Viscount Leverhulme (1851 – 1925) in 1921, when it was worth approximately £ 500.  Still on Top depicts two women and an elderly male servant wearing a red liberty cap, a revolutionary symbol in France.  It had only been three years since Tissot had fled Paris – under some suspicion – during the French government’s suppression of the radical Paris Commune.  It’s really rather daring for an apparent French political refugee of the time, remaking his career in England:  as the three figures raise the flags, which is on top?

Painted in Tissot’s extensive garden at his home in St. John’s Wood, London, the picture is similar to his Preparing for the gala, which came up for auction at Sotheby’s, New York in May, 1996.  Preparing for the Gala sold for $1,650,000/£ 1,090,188.

On the morning of Sunday, August 9, 1998, the slightly larger Still on Top, worth $3.5 million USD, was stolen from the Auckland Art Gallery by a 48-year-old man with a shotgun who then asked $260,000 ransom from the Auckland Art Gallery.  The painting was recovered under a bed at the home the man rented in Waikaretu, south of Port Waikato, on August 17.  Restoration of the picture, which had been terribly damaged, began in February 1999.  [For the full story of the robbery –  including surveillance video – and the repairs to Still on Top, click here.]

Later that year, from September 22 to November 28, 1999, the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, held the first Tissot retrospective in the U.S. since 1968:  “James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love.”  The exhibition featured approximately 40 paintings, 40 prints and 20 watercolors selected from public and private collections in North America, Europe and Australia, including works from the Tate Gallery in London, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  On display for the first time in the U.S. was Tissot’s The Hammock (1879), reportedly owned at that time by American stockbroker Jerome Davis of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The exhibition traveled to the Musée du Québec, Québec City, from December 15, 1999 to March 12, 2000 and to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo from March 24 to July 2, 2000.

© 2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

Related posts:

James Tissot oils at auction: Seven favorites

Kathleen Newton by James Tissot: eight auctioned oil paintings

Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series

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


CH377762If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you can 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’s “Miss Sydney Milner-Gibson” (c. 1872)

The memory of an English gentlewoman painted by James Tissot survives in the large portrait he was commissioned to paint of her by his young friend, Thomas Gibson Bowles (1842 – 1922).

After the horrors of the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune, Tissot arrived in London in May or June, 1871 with less than one hundred francs but with numerous British friends including Tommy Bowles.

Bowles had founded a new Society magazine, Vanity Fair, which débuted on November 14, 1868.  By September 1869, Tommy Bowles was paying Tissot to provide caricatures for his magazine.  He initially paid Tissot ten guineas for four drawings, but when circulation skyrocketed within a few weeks, he increased Tissot’s compensation to eight pounds for each drawing.

When Tissot moved to London in 1871, Bowles, who was living at Cleeve Lodge, Queen’s Gate, near Hyde Park, let his friend use his rented apartment in Palace Chambers at 88 St. James’s Street.  Tissot sold caricatures to Vanity Fair and painted on commission.

Tommy Bowles was the illegitimate son of Thomas Milner Gibson (1806 – 1884), a Liberal MP for Manchester and President of the Board of Trade from 1859 to 1866, and Susannah Bowles, a servant.  Tommy was an adorable little boy, and his stepmother, Arethusa Susannah (1814 – 1885), a Society hostess who was the only child of Sir Thomas Gery Cullum (1777 – 1855) of Hardwick House, Suffolk, insisted that he be raised with his father’s family of four sons and two daughters.

Miss Sydney Milner-Gibson (September 28, 1849 – September 30, 1880), c. 1872, by James Tissot. (Photo:

Tommy’s favorite half-sister was Sydney Milner-Gibson, nearly eight years younger, and in 1871, when Sydney was 22, he commissioned Tissot to paint her portrait.  Some scholars deduce it was a late 21st-birthday gift, and that milestone may well have been the reason for the commission.  It may also have provided the perfect opportunity for Bowles to help Tissot establish himself in the London art world.

Portrait 2, best one to use on blogAt 50 by 39.02 in. (127.0 by 99.1 cm), the portrait of Sydney is much larger than the 1870 portrait that Bowles commissioned Tissot to paint of his dashing friend Gus Burnaby (Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, 1842 – 1885), a captain in the privileged Royal Horse Guards, the cavalry regiment that protected the monarch.  [Burnaby’s portrait, at the National Portrait Gallery, London, measures just 19.5 by 23.5 in./49.5 by 59.7 cm).]

Since Sydney Milner-Gibson was the granddaughter of a baronet, the portrait commission would have been a real coup for a French artist little known in London.


Two short letters written by James Tissot about this portrait were discovered in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1992.  The first, to Susannah Milner-Gibson during the winter of 1871-72, reveals that Tissot arranged the initial sittings with Miss Milner-Gibson through her mother, who had been educated in a French convent and spent much time in Paris.  The second, written on March 13, 1872, is to the young lady herself, as the frustrated artist attempted to arrange time to finish the London living room setting in time for the portrait to be displayed at the imminent Royal Academy Exhibition.  But the picture was not exhibited then, or ever during Tissot’s lifetime.  [It was, however, included in a Tissot exhibition which toured five cities in Japan from March to September, 1988.]

In 1880, the unmarried Sydney died of enteric fever* – typhoid – at Hawstead, in Suffolk outside Bury St. Edmunds, two days after her thirty-first birthday.

Tommy Bowles named his first daughter after her:  Sydney (1880 – 1963), later Lady Redesdale, who was the mother of the famous Mitford sisters.

Moyses Hall Museum.

Moyses Hall Museum. (Photo: R. Zuercher)

Sydney Milner-Gibson’s younger brother, George Gery Milner Gibson, died unmarried in 1921 and bequeathed most of the family portraits to the Borough of St. Edmundsbury.

From 1923 to 1959, Sydney’s portrait was displayed in the town library, and later at the Art Gallery.

It was displayed at the Clock Museum, Angel Corner, in Bury St. Edmunds from 1989 to 1992, and then at the Manor House Museum until it was closed in 2006.

Since 2012, the painting, which was valued at £1.8 million and cannot be sold, has been displayed at Moyse’s Hall Museum.

James Tissot’s portrait of Sydney Milner-Gibson currently is displayed in the Edwardson Room first floor gallery, where I recently saw it after a quick train ride from Cambridge.

Tissot captured the sweet, reticent personality and awkwardness of Tommy Bowles’ beloved little sister.  Every detail of her portrait is beautifully painted, from the reflection of her hairstyle in the mirror behind her to the gown and its ruffles, and the vase of flowers on the right.

Portrait of Mlle. L.L. (Young Lady in a Red Jacket), February 1864, by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 48 13/16 by 39 3/8 in. (124 by 99.5 cm). Museé d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo:

At the very least, the display of Sydney Milner-Gibson’s portrait at the Royal Academy exhibition would have been Tissot’s entrée into the lucrative world of aristocratic British portraiture dominated by his friend John Everett Millais.

But had Miss Milner-Gibson been a more attractive, confident and stylish young woman – and had Tissot had time to finish her portrait in time for the Royal Academy exhibition that year – no doubt this picture would be more well-known.

Perhaps it might have created a sensation, as did Portrait of Mlle. L.L. (Young Lady in a Red Jacket), which Tissot painted in Paris in February 1864 and exhibited at the Salon that year.

You can view a photograph of Sydney by cutting and pasting this link into your browser:

Sydney Milner-Gibson appears in my novel, The Hammock, with Tommy Bowles as James Tissot paints her portrait in 1872.  Click the Amazon link below to immerse yourself in their world!

Note:*  Previously, scholars reported that Sydney Milner-Gibson died of tuberculosis.  However, a copy of Sydney’s death certificate was sent to me by reader Adam Mead of Bristol, U.K.  Adam blogs on the Milner-Gibson family at  Thank you, Adam!


Related posts:

1869: Tissot meets “the irresistible” Tommy Bowles, founder of British Vanity Fair

James Tissot & Tommy Bowles Brave the Siege Together: October 1870

Paris, June 1871

London, June 1871

Tissot in the U.K.: Cambridgeshire, Oxford & Bury St. Edmunds

CH377762©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

If 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’s “A Civic Procession” (c. 1879)

Civic, Painting 1 (2), useJames Tissot painted A Civic Procession Descending Ludgate Hill, London (oil on canvas, 84.5 by 43 in./214.6 by 109.2 cm), around 1879, while he was living at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood.

Tissot moved back to Paris in mid-November, 1882, after the death of his young mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton.

He gave the picture to Léonce Bénédite (1859 – 1925).  From 1886 until Tissot’s death in 1902 and beyond, Bénédite was the deputy director and then curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris.

The Musée du 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.  The Musée du Luxembourg was closed after a national museum of modern art was built in the Palais de Tokyo in 1937, but it reopened to the public in 1979, with exhibitions highlighting France’s regional heritage and collections from provincial museums.

Civic, detail 4, useIn the meantime, Tissot’s painting was purchased by the Corporation of London through S.C. L’Expertise, Paris, from the curator’s granddaughter, Mme. Léonce Bénédite, in 1972.  It now is in the collection of the Guildhall Art Gallery, which houses the art collection of the City of London.

According to curator Jeremy Johnson, the painting formerly was called The Lord Mayor’s Show, but the subject matter is uncertain.  To date, there is no documentation, no letters, no information at all on this picture.

Until 2011, the painting was on display as part of an ongoing exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery on civic life in London.

Civic 7a, USE tho my feet cut offWhile A Civic Procession is not currently on view, I was able to see it by appointment when I was in London recently.

The picture raises numerous questions:

The Household Guard are shown in the background, but the significance of the red and white badges is unknown; what ceremony does it depict?

Was this a study, or a finished work?  It is quite large – was it a commission?

Why did Tissot give a painting about London to a curator of a museum of contemporary art in Paris?

Léonce Bénédite, the curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, began his career there as deputy director in 1886.  An art historian of considerable energy and ambition, he was appointed curator in 1892.  Matilda Arnoux, director of research at the German Centre for Art History, Paris, noted that Bénédite saw the Luxembourg as the “antechamber” of the Louvre – a way station designed to highlight contemporary works that later would chronicle the history of nineteenth-century art – and that he believed the museum must represent international trends in modern art.  With limited funds and space, Bénédite pursued personal relationships with artists through numerous trips abroad from 1893 to 1921.

Civic, detail 3, useHis taste was conservative, and while his objective was to acquire a major work by every contemporary artist, including the Belgian Alfred Stevens, the American John Singer Sargent, and the Englishman Edward Burne-Jones, he did not seek to acquire daring works by Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh or Edvard Munch.

He also welcomed gifts and bequests, and he accepted Manet’s Olympia (1863), when it was offered in 1890 after Claude Monet organized a public subscription.

Of course, one of James Tissot’s oil paintings had entered the Luxembourg when he was only twenty-five:  in 1860, The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite attracted the attention of the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, France’s Director-General of Museums, who purchased the painting on behalf of the government for the Luxembourg Museum for 5,000 francs.  This was a tremendous honor for Tissot; he exhibited the painting in the Salon of 1861, where he won an honorable mention.

With his place in the pantheon of contemporary artists long since ensured, James Tissot gave Léonce Bénédite this large painting as a personal gift at some time prior to the artist’s death in 1902.

Study for ‘Le sphinx’ (Woman in an Interior), by James Tissot.  Oil on panel, 44 by 27 in. (111.76 by 68.58 cm).  Private Collection.

Study for ‘Le sphinx’ (Woman in an Interior), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 44 by 27 in. (111.76 by 68.58 cm). Private Collection.

The two men were friends, as indicated by another gift.  Around 1885, Tissot gave Study for ‘Le Sphinx’ (Woman in an Interior, oil on panel, 43 3/4 by 27 in. /111.1 by 68.6 cm) to Léonce Bénédite.  This image from Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series, which remained with the Bénédite family until it was sold around 1972, actually was a portrait of Louise Riesener (1860 – 1944).  The same year, Tissot planned to marry Mlle. Riesener, the granddaughter of portrait painter Henri Riesener (1767 – 1828), a daughter of the painter Léon Riesener (1808-1878), and a cousin of painter Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863).  Along with her sister Rosalie, she belonged to the same artistic social set as Berthe Morisot, for whom they modeled.  Unfortunately, one day when the forty-nine-year-old Tissot removed his overcoat in the front hall, his appearance struck his twenty-five-year-old fiancée as old-fashioned.  Louise suddenly decided that she had lost her desire to marry.  In 2005, Study for ‘Le Sphinx’ sold at Sotheby’s, New York for $ 650,000 USD/£ 364,023 GBP (Hammer price).

Civic, detail 1, use tho a bit blurred


It was fascinating to see A Civic Procession in person and study it closely.

It is far less detailed than Tissot’s most well-known pictures, and the brushstrokes are extremely loose and Impressionistic.

Was this an attempt by Tissot to emulate the progressive style of the colleagues he had declined to join when his friend Edgar Degas exhorted him to exhibit with a group of struggling, unknown artists in Paris in 1874, a few years after Tissot had established a new and lucrative career in London?


Special thanks to Jeremy Johnson and Andrew Lane for arranging for me to view this painting.

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

Related posts:

Tissot in the U.K.: London, at The Geffrye & the Guildhall

Artistic intimates: Tissot’s patrons among his friends & colleagues

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


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