I recently had the rare opportunity to see James Tissot’s Algernon Moses Marsden, one of three of his oil paintings on temporary loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford from a private collection. My thanks to the gentleman on Twitter who kindly drew my attention to this.
James Tissot painted Algernon Moses Marsden’s portrait in 1877, and it remained in the Marsden family for nearly a century. It’s a compelling image; Marsden, at age 30, appears sophisticated and well-to-do. Unfortunately, he was a complete cad. He was Tissot’s art dealer for a short time in the mid-1870s, and the setting of the portrait is the elegant new studio of Tissot’s home in St. John’s Wood [not Marsden’s study, as it formerly was identified].
Marsden was a witty and engaging gambler, bankrupt and rogue who foisted his debts on his father and deserted his wife and ten children. When his father died in 1884, he disinherited his son but provided legacies for his abandoned family members. In 1901, bankrupt for at least the third time, Algernon, at age 54, fled to the United States with another woman.
He was bankrupt again in 1912, and he died eight years later in upstate New York. His tombstone in Mt. Hope Cemetery (Section S) in Rochester, New York, is inscribed: “MARSDEN Algernon Moses of London, Eng.; d Jan 23, 1920 æ 72y” [at the age of 72 years].
Tissot’s portrait, which captures the man in his moment of youth and apparent success, was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1971 for $4,838/£2,000. In 1983, it was sold at Christie’s, London for $65,677/£45,000. [Hammer prices.]
During my visit to the Ashmolean, I was alone in the gallery with this portrait for some time, and Algernon Moses Marsden is eerily alive. A highly-educated professional woman I encountered at the museum told me he made her “swoon.”
Enjoy these close-up photographs of the man and that tiger skin – which Tissot uses to provide visual interest to the otherwise plain leather armchair, but which also functions as a startling emblem of Marsden’s virility: through Tissot, we see Algernon Moses Marsden the way he saw himself.
(And yes, the blue dots are reflections on the glass.)
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Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
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“The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870 – 1904),” November 2, 2017 – May 7, 2018.
Curator, Dr. Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Assistant Curator 1850-1915
And see “James Tissot, the Englishman,” by Cyrille Sciama, Curator of the 19th century collections at the Musée d’arts de Nantes, in the exhibition catalogue.