Since today is April Fool’s Day – and my birthday – let’s have a lighthearted look at a prop that James Tissot often used, a tiger skin.
In 1877, Tissot draped a tiger skin over a wide upholstered armchair to underscore the masculinity and dynamism of his sometime art dealer, Algernon Moses Marsden (1847 – 1920). [Marsden actually deserved to be portrayed with a rat skin, as he was a gambler, bankrupt and rogue who foisted his debts on his father and abandoned his wife and ten children. See Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?]
Other Victorian artists, notably Tissot’s friend Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912) as well as Alma-Tadema’s protégé John William Godward (1861 – 1922), featured tiger skins as an exotic element in sensual paintings of lovely women.
James Tissot, so technically skilled and refined, almost never presented open sensuality in his work, especially during the years he painted in England (1871–1882). He used the tiger skin in his paintings for textural complexity and to illustrate the lushness of the Victorian leisured life. After Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854–1882), moved into his home, he added a leopard skin rug to his prop collection.
In Hide and Seek (c. 1877), Tissot featured both the leopard skin and the tiger skin, among many textures including the Oriental porcelain, the two mirrors, the leather-armed chaise, the polished wooden occasional table, and the round enameled table in the foreground.
In Reading a Story (c. 1878-79), the leopard skin is tossed over a bench in Tissot’s garden:
In 1880, it lines Mrs. Newton’s chair in A Type of Beauty.
The leopard skin is draped neatly over the garden bench in pictures from 1881 to 1882:
Tissot also shows the leopard skin used as the family picnic rug, c. 1881.
How prim Tissot, the Frenchman, seems compared to the Dutch-born Alma-Tadema!
By 1882, enjoying his domestic life with Kathleen Newton and her two children, Tissot’s tiger skin is emblematic of the exuberance of their days – which would end with Kathleen’s death of tuberculosis in November.
But while James Tissot did not use his tiger skin in erotic images, he did use it to create one with an improving moral message.
Even in La femme préhistorique (The Prehistoric Woman), Tissot shuns the opportunity to paint an erotic semi-nude primitive; he veers off with his own idiosyncratic approach.
But, then, at least Tissot never inflicted this type of image upon posterity:
Thank you for celebrating my birthday with me, and please enjoy other posts on my blog as well as my novel about James Tissot, The Hammock!
Previous April Fool’s Day posts:
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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.