Monthly Archives: April 2015

James Tissot’s Georgian Girls, c. 1872

             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.


Before the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), James Tissot painted scenes from France’s Directory period; after he emigrated to England in 1871, he began to paint scenes from England’s Georgian period.

Theresa Parker (1787), by Sir Joshua Reynolds. (Photo:

The Georgian era encompasses the reigns of George I, George II, George III, George IV, and George IV’s brother, William IV, the period from 1714 to 1837.  During that time, improvements in transportation and manufacturing led to the rise of towns and cities and a growing middle class that could afford increasingly mass-produced consumer goods – a similar situation to Tissot’s life in Paris during the heady, prosperous years before the Franco-Prussian War.  Tissot enjoyed depicting fabrics and polished surfaces that showcased his consummate skill with paint, and despite some success painting modern subjects in Paris, he now reverted to painting uncontroversial, bygone times.

As a newcomer seeking to rebuild his career in London, he exchanged the racy sexuality of his Directory paintings for the poignancy and comedy of his Georgian pictures.  His style was inspired by portraits by the British painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), a co-founder of the Royal Academy.  Reynolds was revered, and an exhibition of his work was held at the Royal Academy in 1872.

Tissot, who had reinvented himself from a painter of medieval scenes to achieve a remarkable success in Paris as a painter of chic aristocrats, reinvented himself again to appeal to Victorian critics and patrons.  That he applied himself to this new direction is clear from extant studies such as two pencil sketches from this period (c.1872) in the collection of The Tate, in London:  Study after Reynolds’ Portrait of Mrs. Williams Hope and Study of a Girl in a Mob Cap.

Reading a Book, by James Tissot, (c. 1872-73). Oil on panel, 45.00 by 31.50 cm. Private Collection. (Photo:

The emphasis on the mob cap is evident in Reading a Book, sold at Christie’s London in 1983 for $ 18,546 USD/£ 12,000 GBP to Umeda Gallery, Osaka, Japan and then to a private collector in Tokyo.

Tissot used the same mob cap and white dress (as well as the chair) in his other paintings of this period.

Bad News (The Parting), (1872), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 27 by 36 in. (68.8 by 91.4). The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. (Photo:

As in Tissot’s Directory paintings, his figures are actors onstage.  In Bad News (1872), a young couple absorbs the reality of his new military orders while a woman prepares tea.  Bad News first belonged to A.B. Stewart.  In 1881, it was sold as The Parting to William Menelaus (1818 – 1882), a Scottish-born engineer, iron and steel manufacturer, and inventor.  He earned a fortune at the Dowlais Ironworks in South Wales, and his only extravagance was his art collection, which was said to fill his home in Merthyr.  He donated pieces to the Cardiff Free Library, then upon his death in 1882, bequeathed to it the remaining thirty-six paintings, valued at £10,000.  His bequest included James Tissot’s Bad News (The Parting), now in the collection of the National Museum Cardiff.

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

In Tea (1872), Tissot expanded the left side of Bad News (The Parting), further demonstrating his skill at painting fashion, china, silver and polished wood.  In a private collection in Rome, Italy in 1968, Tea 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, socialite, philanthropist and fine arts collector Mrs. Charles Wrightsman (b. 1919) owned it until 1998, when she gifted it to the Met.  It is currently on view.

Tissot’s friend Edgar Degas owned a pencil study for Tea, inscribed “à mon ami Degas/J. Tissot/Londres.”   This sketch later was owned by the Duke of Verdura (1898 – 1978), an influential Italian jeweler who was introduced to Coco Chanel by Cole and Linda Porter, two of his early backers.  This drawing, now in a private collection, has a study for How We Read the News of our Marriage (see below) on the other side.

An Interesting Story (c. 1872), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 59.7 by 76.6 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. (Photo:

An Interesting Story was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1872.  Tissot showcased his expertise painting ship’s rigging – using the Thames as the background to make his art relevant to British patrons – while offering his own brand of humor.  Those poor women!  While one yawns, the other looks almost as if she is praying for release from the man’s interminable tale.  Their obvious boredom surely transcends cultures.

An Interesting Story entered the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia in 1938 with the Felton Bequest (a philanthropic trust established with the Will of Alfred Felton [1831 –1904], an Australian entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist, who remained unmarried and childless all his life).

We feel even worse for the patiently suffering girl in the version below.  She is definitely praying.

The Tedious Story (c. 1872), by James Tissot. Private Collection. (Photo:

In 1878, Tissot reproduced The Tedious Story (also called An Uninteresting Story) as an etching and exhibited it at London’s Grosvenor Gallery as The Bow Window.

How We Read the News of our Marriage, by James Tissot.

The unlocated 1872 painting, How We Read the News of our Marriage, must have been quite popular to have been commercially reproduced as a steel engraving in 1874.  As he reads the marriage notice, is she bored or regretful already, gazing out the window?  Or is her gentle smile one of modesty and contentment with her rather preening husband?

There is an oil study called The Tryst, a variation of this scene in which the woman looks down at the man while he kneels before her.  It sold at Sotheby’s, New York in 1982 for $ 36,000 USD/£ 21,452 GBP.

Back in Paris, Tissot’s friends Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet still were struggling for critical acceptance and for patrons.  But Tissot, who had arrived in London in the bloody aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War with only one hundred francs to his name, worked prodigiously to produce all these paintings in just one year.  From this cautious start painting conservative Georgian pictures, he gained a foothold with art collectors among British politicians, bankers and industrialists and began painting for them the modern subjects and portraits that had brought him immense wealth among aristocrats in pre-war Paris.

To learn more about the challenges that James Tissot faced as he pursued his career in London for over a decade – reinventing himself yet again as a painter of domestic bliss with his beautiful young mistress – read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.

Related blog posts:

James Tissot’s Directoire series, 1868-71

The calm before the storm: Courbet & Tissot in Paris, January to June, 1870

“Napoleon is an idiot”: Courbet & the Fall of the Second Empire, 1870

James Tissot and The Artists’ Brigade, 1870-71

Paris, June 1871

London, June 1871

©  2015 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



Tissot and his Friends Clown Around

Today is April Fool’s Day – and my birthday – so here’s something a little offbeat. 

Among the contemporary subjects painted by French artists in the second half of the nineteenth century were various incarnations of Polichinelle, a comic figure based on Pulcinella in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte – in English, Punch.  In Paris, Polichinelle featured in a marionette theater that opened around 1860 in the Tuileries Gardens.

Portrait of Harlequin Polichinelle (1860), by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Oil on pine panel. 55.2 by 36 cm. Wallace Collection, London. (Photo:

Tissot’s enormously successful friend and mentor, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815 – 1891), painted at least a dozen versions of Polichinelle, including Polichinelle à la Rose (1879; oil on canvas, 17 by 11 in./43.18 by 27.94 cm; Private Collection) and Portrait of Harlequin Polichinelle (above; The Wallace Collection, London).

Harlequin Polichinelle is painted on a pine panel which once formed part of a door in the Paris apartment of Apollonie Sabatier (1822 – 1890), a famous courtesan whose salons were attended by artists and writers including Baudelaire, Flaubert and Meissonier.  In 1861, a year after Meissonier painted this picture, it was cut from the door and retouched by the artist for sale by Madame Sabatier, who was said to be the mistress of Sir Richard Wallace (1818 – 1890).  His father, Lord Hertford, who lived in Paris and owned the finest private art collection in Europe, bought the painting for the generous sum of 13,000 francs (about £520).


The Actor (Le troisième comedien, 1867-68), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 12.80 by 7.28 in. (32.50 by 18.50 cm). Private Collection. (Photo:

In 1869, James Tissot was at the top of his game.  His paintings, for the wealthy and titled collectors he attracted, depicted the leisured and refined life of the Second Empire:  The StaircaseLe goûter/Afternoon TeaAt the Rifle Range, Les patineuses (Lac de Longchamps)/Women Skating (Lake Longchamps), and Rêverie.  He executed at least one grisaille sketch, Tuileries Gardens, of a masked ball given by the Imperial court – perhaps its last.

Tissot recently had moved into the sumptuous new villa he had built at the most prestigious address in Haussmann’s renovated Paris:  the twelve-year-old avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch).  His new studio, a showcase for his renowned collection of Japanese art, quickly had become a landmark to see when touring Paris.  His Salon exhibits included Young Women Looking at Japanese Objects and A Widow.

Rather than paint Polichinelle, Tissot exhibited two of a series of six comedians at the Cercle de l’Union Artistique in 1869.  These were character studies of comedians who ran the gamut from Le premier comédien, an elegant entertainer with the Comédie-Française, to Le sixème comédien, a sad clown with a travelling circus.

Tissot’s Le deuxième comédien, a comical vision of a Renaissance scholar with a long, fur-trimmed coat and an armful of heavy books, was exhibited at the Cercle de l’Union Artistique in Paris in 1869.  It found its way to The Fine Art Society in London by December, 1993 and sold at Christie’s, London, on December 11, 2014 for $ 35,370 USD/£ 22,500 GBP (Premium).

In 2006, Le troisième comédien (above) was sold as The Actor at the Dorotheum, Vienna.  In 2008, it was sold at De Vuyst, Lokeren, in Belgium for € 8,400 EUR (Premium; $ 11,313 USD/£ 6,641 GBP).


Polichinelle (1873), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 19.88 by 12.91 in. (50.50 by 32.80 cm). Private Collection. (

Another of Tissot’s friends, Edouard Manet, painted Polichinelle.

In a cover design for a group of 1862 etchings, Manet showed the comedian peeking out from behind a curtain that reads, “Polichinelle Presents:  Etchings by Edouard Manet.”

In 1873, the year Manet painted The Railway and sold it to Paris opera baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure, he gave his painting of Polichinelle to Faure.  It was sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, in 1878, to Madame Martinet, Paris who sold it at Hôtel Drouot in 1893 to Claude Lafontaine, Paris.  It was purchased by French margarine magnate and art collector Auguste Pellerin, Paris and sold at Hôtel Drouot in 1926 to Belgian art collector and dealer Joseph Hessel, Paris.  In 1999, it was sold at Christie’s, New York to a private collector, and in November, 2014, it was sold at Sotheby’s, New York for $ 3,525,000 USD/£ 2,202,299 GBP (Premium).

Polichinelle (1874), by Edouard Manet. Gouache and watercolor over lithograph, 18.2 by 13.3 in. (46.3 by 33.7 cm). Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris. (

In 1874, when The Railway was exhibited at the Salon and ridiculed by the critics and the public, Manet made a series of prints of another Polichinelle, above.


Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (also known as Amateur Circus, 1885), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 58 by 40 in./147.3 by 101.6 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. (Photo:

After enduring the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris, the Commune, self-imposed exile in London for eleven years as he built a new career but ultimately was left behind in both the French and British capitals, and the death of his lovely young mistress, Tissot returned to Paris.

There, with Manet dead and Impressionism well established as the prevailing art trend, Tissot exerted himself to re-establish his reputation with a series of fifteen large-scale paintings called “La Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris).  He painted these large works between 1883 and 1885, illustrating the fashionable parisienne in various incarnations using brighter, more modern colors than he had in his previous work.

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (1885) is one in this series.  The setting for this picture is the Molier Circus in Paris, a “high-life circus” in which the amateur performers were members of the aristocracy.  People of beauty and fashion attended the circus and mingled with the performers during the interval.

The man on the trapeze wearing red is the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, one of the oldest titles of the French nobility; he was said to have “the biceps of Hercules.”

Under him in the ring, competing for the attention of the sophisticated, bored Parisians in the audience, Tissot painted a forlorn, comic character played by Jules Ravaut.  Tissot’s last clown, he wears the Union Jack on his costume.


Related posts:

The Missing Tissot Nudes

Was James Tissot a Plagiarist?

More “Plagiarists”: Tissot’s friends Manet, Degas, Whistler & Others


©  2015 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