Monthly Archives: November 2016

A Closer Look: The Circus Lover (The Amateur Circus), by James Tissot

The Circus Lover,  one of fifteen oil paintings in James Tissot’s series of contemporary life called “La femme à Paris” (“Women of Paris”), was first exhibited in Paris in 1885 as Les femmes de sport and was displayed in London in 1886 as The Amateur Circus.

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (also known as The 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: Wikimedia.org)

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (also known as The 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: Wikimedia.org)

The setting for The Circus Lover is the Molier Circus in Paris, a “high-life circus” opened in 1880 in which the amateur performers were members of the aristocracy.  The London exhibition catalogue denigrated the events as “fancies of a bored generation.”  The man on the trapeze wearing red is the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, one of the oldest titles of the French nobility.  People of beauty and fashion attended the circus and mingled with the performers during the interval.

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Photo by R. Zuercher, © 2016

The Circus Lover was sold by Gerald M. Fitzgerald at Christie’s, London in mid-1957 to the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery for $ 3,219 USD/£ 1,150 GBP.  In early 1958, The Circus Lover was purchased from the Marlborough Fine Art by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts for $ 5,000 as Amateur Circus.

The Circus Lover was included in the blockbuster exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity,” in Paris, New York and Chicago, and I saw it then.  But I recently had a chance to study it at length in Boston, and I have to say, it is an odd picture.  It’s garish and crammed with characters and mini-dramas, but it is amusing and definitely compelling.  Here are some close-ups I took for those of you who can’t get to the Museum of Fine Arts to see Tissot’s beautifully painted details.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The face makeup and expression on the clown with the Union Jack costume are denoted with thick smudges of paint, while the woman’s bracelet, the dainty edging of her glove, and the fabric of her gown are rendered in finer strokes.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The blonde in the pink gown pulls us into the scene with her direct gaze.  Her gown, with its lacy neckline and green accents, is skillfully observed.  Behind her, fashionable men in silk top hats are depicted as individuals with distinctive features, and they are alive and busily interacting with each other.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The women sitting in the tier above them are also depicted as individuals, each with very different features, expressions, and ensembles.  This photo also shows two of my favorite details – the lively profiles of the woman and the man at the right.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

Notice the contrasting textures of the man’s gleaming silk top hat, his soft sideburns, and the wrinkled fabric of his coat.  And, above him, a woman whose face is obscured wears an elegant straw hat trimmed in black ribbons and profuse bows.  The green patterned fabric of her gown distinguishes her figure from the man, the woman in front of her in the brown patterned dress, and the woman in pink.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The acrobat in blue sits on the trapeze on his thighs rather than his bottom – look how the bar of the swing presses into his flesh.  His crossed legs form an inverted triangle, which frames the face of the lady in the red hat.  And, on the left, look at the comical expressions on the guards at the entrance to the ring.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The old gent with the white whiskers seems to disapprove of what he sees, but the younger men on the right are clearly amused by something, as are at least two of the ladies seated below them.  The two brown gowns are the closest thing to duplicate styles in the whole painting – notice how very different each of the women’s hats are.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The acrobat in red – the Duc de la Rochefoucauld – is sitting directly on his buttocks, which hang rather amusingly over the heads of two bored gentlemen seen behind him.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The Duc de la Rochefoucauld was said to have “the biceps of Hercules,” and his red and white shoes are striking.  But in the whole scene, the only person who appears to be looking at him is the lady with the large red fan.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

These men in the uppermost tier appear to be checking out the fashionable beauties seated immediately below them, while the man with the opera glasses seems to be focused on the woman in the ivory-colored bonnet seen just behind the Duc de la Rochefoucauld’s right foot.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

I love the expressions on the faces of these two friends.  They are not impressed.  Head to head with impassivity, they are either exchanging acerbic comments on the whole affair, or on the women near them – or they just want to get out of there!

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

You can feel the heat and the sense of the crowd pressing on you, in all its boredom and restlessness, as audience members anticipate mingling during – or after – the interval.

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The Circus Lover, by James Tissot. Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

Though Tissot’s “Women of Paris” series did not meet with critical or popular acclaim, The Circus Lover is yet another of his paintings that opened a window into his world and let posterity in.

Related posts:

Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series

A Closer Look at Tissot’s “The Ladies of the Chariots”

A Closer Look at Tissot’s “The Artists’ Wives”

Tissot in the U.S.:  New England

© 2016 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 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.

A Closer Look at Tissot’s “The Fan”

James Tissot painted The Fan about 1875 in London, where he had been living in the four years after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.

Following the bloody end to the Commune, Tissot arrived in London in May or June, 1871, with only a hundred francs.  By 1873, he was living in a comfortable suburban home at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, where he built an extension with a studio and conservatory in 1875 that doubled the size of the house.

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

In his new conservatory, Tissot painted some of his loveliest images, including The Fan, which celebrates the continuing fascination with japonisme during this era.  An auburn-haired beauty wearing a loose, pale yellow dressing gown leans against an elegant length of embroidered silk draped over the back of a large upholstered armchair as she fans herself in a conservatory.  Behind her is an exuberant russet-colored plant in a cloisonné jardinière, perched on an Oriental table of carved rosewood, and the breezy fronds of a potted palm.  Her gown is trimmed in white pleated ruffles, and she wears the black velvet ribbon around her neck that was de rigueur for fashionable women in 1875.  A yellow flower dangles from her thick, coiled braids, echoing the golden motifs in the Japanese cloth.  The aqua-colored fan painted with Oriental images is crisp and cool, while that bright red edge on the embroidery accents the entire picture as if underscoring the heat.  The painting is sheer beauty; there is no narrative nor, as in most of Tissot’s paintings, any psychological tension.  Yet it is an arresting image.

The Fan 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.”

Jerdein sold The Fan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

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The Wadsworth, Hartford, Connecticut. Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

The Wadsworth Atheneum was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth (1771–1848), an artistic member of an old and wealthy family.

Now comprising five connected buildings, the Wadsworth began in the distinctive Gothic Revival building of 1844, designed by Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis.

It is the largest art museum in the state and is noted for its collections of European Baroque art, French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes and much more – including Tissot’s wonderful study for his elegant The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their Children, a masterpiece purchased from the family by the Musée d’Orsay in 2006.

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Photo by R. Zuercher, © 2016

I’ve tried to see The Fan for the past few years, but the museum was undergoing renovations.  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.  After that and through the first two months of 2014, The Fan was on display at the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition, “Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum.”

Finally, I was able to see this painting, and it is lush and lovely.  See it if you can, but if you can’t manage the trip, here are some close-up photos for you to enjoy.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot (detail). Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

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The Fan (c. 1875), by James Tissot. Photo by Lucy Paquette © 2016.

Related posts:

“The three wonders of the world”: Tissot’s japonisme,1864-67

James Tissot’s brilliant marketing tool, 1869

Tissot in the Conservatory

Tissot in the U.S.:  New England

© 2016 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 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.