James Tissot exhibited Hush! (The Concert, 1875) at the Royal Academy exhibition at the height of his success in London.
In this painting, Tissot depicts a crowded Kensington salon, said to have been hosted by Lord and Lady Coope, which features a performer believed to be Moravian violinst Wilma Neruda (1838 – 1911). Acquired by the Manchester Art Gallery in 1933, Hush! measures 29.02 by 44.17 in. (73.7 by 112.2 cm) and is on display in the Balcony Gallery.
On my recent trip to England, I took these close-ups for those of you who can’t get to Manchester to see this intriguing picture.
The pianist and his assistant prepare to begin as the violinist lifts the instrument to her chin.
She’s beautiful, fashionable, and clearly accomplished, but she is young and nervous.
The two men at the piano are professionals who take her seriously, and they are anxious to do justice to her talent.
The two Indian princes, or dignitaries, lean forward in anticipation of the music by this star.
But the Society guests sitting behind them and to their left seem less than excited.
In fact, they look bored out of their minds and dreading this tedious folly of their hosts.
But it is, at least, a chance to be seen. With shoulders like these, front row center is the place to be, whether you’re a music aficionado or not.
Making an impression with a dramatic late entrance works, too…
…though you’re bound to be criticized for upstaging those too timid to think of it themselves.
Meanwhile, those relegated to the staircase don’t seem to mind.
At least one can redeem the evening by carrying on a business discussion in a back corner –
– who needs to impress the wallflower?
These two are wondering how long they’ll have to wait for the liquor to start flowing.
The men behind them, and the two women with them, just want it over already so they can sit down to dinner.
Not a group of violin connoisseurs.
However, the thing does provide some unforeseen opportunities.
It’s Ladies’ Night.
The violinist is not the belle of the evening…
…but rather the lady with the star-shaped diamond brooch in her hair…
…and the scene-stealing, painted fan.
Hush! is a lovely picture that, on closer inspection, is quite witty. However, it suffered from the increasing notice Tissot’s work was attracting. In attempting to equal the success that he had with Too Early at the Royal Academy of 1873, Tissot had miscalculated with The Ball on Shipboard in 1874. That picture was criticized for lacking a coherent narrative, for its vivid colors criticized as “garish and almost repellent” by the reviewer for The Illustrated London News, and especially for its vulgar show of nouveaux riches, with “not a lady in a score of female figures,” according to the Athenaeum’s reviewer.
Tissot took heed of his critics. With Hush!, he offered a clear narrative, used a muted palette, with pastel colors – and clearly portrayed London Society in this opulent oval drawing room, with its crystal chandelier, profuse floral displays, and scores of bona fide ladies.
Fashion historian James Laver (1899 – 1975), in his 1936 biography of James Tissot, claimed that Tissot had received an invitation to the Coopes’ at which Madame Neruda performed, but that he did not have permission to make portraits of any of the guests. Instead, he painted types, some based on models he used in other paintings, including the old gentleman with the white whiskers in the left corner who also appears in Reading the News (1874), in the center of The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874), and in The Warrior’s Daughter (A Convalescent, c. 1878). The older, white-haired woman on the right also appears in A Convalescent (c. 1876) and Holyday (c 1876).
Tissot added his painter friends, Italian-born Giuseppe de Nittis (1846 – 1884) and German-born Ferdinand Heilbuth (1826 – 1889), to the group standing in the doorway. (De Nittis is next to the jamb on the left, and Heilbuth is next to him.)
The critics were not amused. The Illustrated London News reviewer wrote that Hush! showed English Society through “a Gallic sneer,” adding, “But polite people will, of course, be thankful to see themselves as a polished Frenchman sees them.”
Though the French painter was producing pictures that are now considered among his best – or perhaps because of this – Tissot was increasingly unable to please the British art establishment. The more he succeeded financially, the harsher his critics. In 1873, he sold Too Early through art dealer William Agnew (1825 – 1910) – who specialized in “high-class modern paintings” – for 1,050 guineas. Agnew purchased The Ball on Shipboard from Tissot the following year, and in 1875, purchased Hush! directly from the wall of the Royal Academy by for 1,200 guineas.
A chapter in my book, The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, dramatizes this episode in his new life in London – read it to immerse yourself in the world of Society glamour and tragedy that he knew.
© 2017 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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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.