James Tissot kept a small wardrobe of prop costumes, which he periodically supplanted, that provided visual interest to his oil paintings. Tissot, whose father was a wholesale linen draper (a trader in fabrics and dress trimmings to retailers and exporters) and mother a hat company owner, was a virtuoso at painting every detail of women’s fashions. He brought each flounce, pleat and nuance in the fabrics and trims to life, and he showcased his extraordinary technical skills when portraying patterns such as stripes, checks and plaids. The gowns which adorned his models were elegant and stylish enough to make a fashion statement – though perhaps with new accessories – over a period of one to as many as five years.
At the height of Tissot’s success in Paris, when in his early thirties, he re-used a white, bobble-trimmed morning gown with a cape collar in The Stairs (L’escalier, c. 1869, Private Collection), Mélancolie (1869, Private Collection) and two of the three versions of Young ladies admiring Japanese objects (Jeunes femmes regardant des objets japonais, 1869; one, Private Collection, the other, Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio).
Also in 1869, Tissot re-used a brown visiting ensemble – a skirt with a pleated hem and a fur-trimmed paletôt – in The Snack (Le Goûter, Private Collection), Rêverie (1869, Private Collection), and Le rendez-vous secret (c. 1869, Private Collection), which he also used c. 1865-69 for Dans l’église (In Church, Private Collection). In each painting, the ensemble is shown from a different angle.
In 1871, Tissot painted more than one version of On the River (A la rivière), featuring a long-sleeved white muslin gown he had used in several versions of Young Woman in a Boat (Jeune femme en bateau, 1870).
He had used the same dress, with its distinctive cuffs, in Unaccepted (1869, Private Collection).
After Tissot moved to London in mid-1871, following the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune, he continued his practice of re-using eye-catching costumes for the female models in his paintings.
The central figure in Autumn on the Thames, Nuneham Courtney (c. 1871-72) wears an ensemble that shows how women’s outerwear was redesigned to accommodate the new soft bustle style.
Years later, in Quarreling (c. 1874-76), Tissot showed another view of the back of this still-chic ensemble.
A more notable investment was the stunning, black-and-white striped gown that features in some of Tissot’s most well-known images from the 1870s. In The Return from the Boating Trip (1873), Tissot features a woman facing the viewer, wearing the striped gown under a black paletôt. He used the gown again in Boarding the Yacht (1873, Private Collection) and The Captain and the Mate (1873, Private Collection), and from the back in Still on Top (c. 1874, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, New Zealand) and Preparing for the Gala (c. 1874, Private Collection). He used the dress yet again in Portsmouth Dockyard (also known as Entre les deux mon coeur balance, or How Happy I Could Be with Either, c. 1877, Tate Britain, U.K.), which he exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery from May to June 1877.
The same cream overdress edged in fringe appears in The Captain and the Mate, Boarding the Yacht and A Visit to the Yacht (La Visite au Navire, c. 1873).
Less recognizable is the low-cut, flounced pink ball gown with red trim which appears at the center of Too Early (1873) and at the center left in Hush! The Concert (c. 1875).
Tissot re-used a striped overdress with a column of black buttons down the center of the apron on the female figures in two versions of London Visitors (c. 1874), Waiting for the Ferry at the Falcon Tavern (c. 1874, Speed Museum of Art, Kentucky, U.S.) as well as on the seated woman on the left in The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874, Tate Britain, U.K.).
The woman in Reading the News (c. 1874) wears a tailored yachting gown cut from a heavy white fabric, probably cotton, and trimmed in navy blue ribbon and soft white cotton fringe.
Tissot painted this untrained gown from two other angles in The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874).
Notice how Tissot re-used the pink gown with the maroon trim – as well as a matching hat – on a minor figure climbing the stairs to the right in The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874) and on a seated woman shown from the back in In the Conservatory (The Rivals, c. 1875, Private Collection). In the latter painting, he also captures the blue gown (and hat) from two different angles.
A summery white gown trimmed with lemon-yellow satin ribbons was prominent in a half-dozen of Tissot’s oils in the mid-1870s, including A Portrait (1876, Tate Britain) [left], A Convalescent (c. 1876, Museums Sheffield), and A Passing Storm (c. 1876, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick).
Tissot painted the same gown, with blue ribbons instead, in A Fête Day at Brighton (c. 1875-1878, Private Collection).
In Spring (c. 1878, Private Collection) [right] and July (Speciman of a Portrait, c. 1878, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio), the gown is modeled by Tissot’s new mistress and muse, the young divorced mother Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882). [Note that her hair was overpainted red at some later date.]
Once Mrs. Newton began modeling for Tissot, the gowns he repeatedly depicted clearly were hers, tailored to her slender figure. One of the loveliest garments that Tissot painted her in more than once is the exuberantly embroidered black coat she wore in October (1877, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Canada) and Mavourneen (Portrait of Kathleen Newton, 1877, Private Collection).
Also striking is the simple brown floral dress worn by Mrs. Newton in By the Thames at Richmond, (c. 1878/79, Private Collection), three oil versions (and one watercolor version) of La sœur aînée (The Elder Sister, c. 1881) [below, an oil version], The Garden Bench (Le banc de jardin, c. 1882, Private Collection), and by the seated woman to the right in In Full Sunlight (En plein soleil, c. 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) as well as the woman in the background in A Children’s Party (c. 1881/82).
Kathleen Newton modeled for Tissot in the same green tartan gown in Room Overlooking the Harbour, (c. 1876-78 , Private Collection), The Warrior’s Daughter (The Convalescent, c. 1878, Manchester Art Gallery, U.K.), and Richmond Bridge (c. 1878, Private Collection). And, hidden under a vibrant shawl, the dress reappears in A Type of Beauty (Portrait of Kathleen Newton, 1880).
Kathleen Newton is immediately recognizable in the caped greatcoat that Tissot portrayed her wearing, in numerous paintings including two versions of Waiting for the Ferry (c. 1878), The Ferry (c. 1879, Private Collection), Foreign Visitors to the Louvre (c. 1880), Departure Platform, Victoria Station (c. 1880), “Goodbye” – On the Mersey (c. 1881), The Terrace of the Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich, London (c. 1878) [left], and By Water (c. 1881-82), and even after her death in The Cab Road, Victoria Station (also known as Departure Platform, Victoria Station, 1895).
Mrs. Newton also was immortalized in the elegant black gown, with its high neck and long sleeves and slim Princess line seaming, that Tissot featured in paintings including Hide and Seek (c. 1877, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), L’Été (Summer, 1878), La dame à l’ombrelle, Mme Newton (Woman with a Parasol, Mrs. Newton, c. 1878), Musée Baron Martin, France), The Rivals (I rivali, c. 1878-79, Private Collection), Orphans (L’Orpheline, c. 1879, Private Collection), A Quiet Afternoon (1879), The Gardener (1879), Au bord de la mer (c. 1880), and The Hammock (Le hamac, 1879, Private Collection).
This review of the costumes Tissot re-used is far from complete, since there are numerous other examples; see James Tissot, edited by Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz (© 1985).
Of course, Tissot painted many fashionable ensembles in unique images such as The Two Sisters (1863, Musée d’Orsay, France); At the Rifle Range (The Crack Shot, c. 1869, Wimpole Hall, U.K.); A Girl in an Armchair (The Convalescent, 1870, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada); The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth) (c. 1876, Tate Britain, U.K.); and Le bal (Evening, c. 1878, Musée d’Orsay, France). But shrewd man of business that he was, he also was able to create unique images reusing fashions – the summery white gown with the yellow ribbons, Kathleen Newton’s caped greatcoat, and especially that show-stopping black-and-white striped gown – that will be associated forever with James Tissot’s work.
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