All prices listed are for general reader interest only, and are shown in this order: $ (USD)/£ (GBP). All prices listed are Hammer Price (the winning bid amount) unless noted as Premium, indicating that the figure quoted includes the Buyer’s Premium of an additional percentage charged by the auction house, as well as taxes.
James Tissot characteristically painted beautiful, well-dressed women either in languorous poses or in scenes of psychological tension. But just as often, he depicted contemporary women passing the day in leisure. These women simply exist in loveliness. And two art auctions, one this summer and one a half-dozen years ago, highlighted how two of Tissot’s women were perfectly matched with private collectors who themselves were ladies of leisure – a Vanderbilt of the Gilded Age, and a European aristocrat of our own time – living along New York’s exclusive Fifth Avenue.
At the Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art sale at Sotheby’s, London in July, 2018, James Tissot’s Le goûter (The Snack, 1869) sold to a private collector for £ 187,500 GBP. Set in Tissot’s opulent Parisian villa in the rue de l’impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch), it depicts an elegantly-dressed woman caught reviving herself with a sip of wine and a bit of fruit. The model is wearing the same costume as the woman in In Church (1865-1869); as if she has just returned from a promenade, she has removed her bonnet and set it at the edge of the table.
The 1874 catalogue records for Goupil’s art gallery in Paris include this painting as Le goûter (Afternoon tea). By 1883, Le goûter was in the collection of William H. Vanderbilt (1821 – 1885), who lived in a mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue, New York, that his wife, Alva, commissioned in 1878 from Richard Morris Hunt after William inherited the bulk of his father’s $100 million estate in 1877. Built in a French Renaissance and Gothic style, the mansion was referred to as the Petit Château, and its grand interiors were furnished from trips to Europe, with items from antique shops and from “pillaging the ancient homes of impoverished nobility.”
Le goûter was passed to William’s youngest son, art collector George W. Vanderbilt (1862 – 1914), whose New York residence comprised two identical, five-story white marble mansions at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue, between E. 51st and E. 52nd Streets, designed by Hunt & Hunt in 1905 as a “free interpretation of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century palazzi.”
George W. Vanderbilt left this residence to his nephew, Cornelius “Neily” III Vanderbilt (1873 – 1942), who had been disinherited by his father in 1896 for becoming engaged to Grace Graham Wilson (1870 – 1953), the daughter of a New York banker [upon his father’s death in 1899, he received only $500,000 in cash and the income from a $1 million trust fund].
Grace, a popular member of the smart international set of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), was considered an “adventuress.” Less than thrilled to inherit an old mansion which she referred to as “The Black Hole of Calcutta,” Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt hired architect Horace Trombauer to make improvements, and she filled the house with 18th century French furniture and tapestries. In 1917, ready to establish residence, she hired a staff of 30 including an English butler and six footman liveried in the Vanderbilt maroon.
Cornelius, who prior to his marriage had earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Yale, had joined the New York National Guard in 1901. In 1916, he was mobilized and served in an engineering regiment that was shipped to France in mid-1918. Shortly after his arrival there, he was promoted to brigadier general.
After the war, he preferred life on his yacht to life with his wife, who entertained endlessly and lavishly in their New York mansion. But by 1940, with taxes almost $60,000 a year on the house, Neily Vanderbilt sold it to Lord John Jacob Astor V (later 1st Baron Astor of Hever, 1886 – 1971), with the provision that his wife could live there until three years after his death. He died in 1942, and in 1944, Grace Vanderbilt moved up Fifth Avenue to a house at 86th Street which is now the Neue Galerie. Le goûter was in her possession from 1945, when the marble mansion at 645 Fifth Avenue was demolished. (Its twin mansion at 647 has been Versace’s flagship store since 1995.)
Later with Stair-Sainty Fine Art, New York, Tissot’s Le goûter offered for sale by an anonymous owner at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1982. It was sold at the same auction house in 1987, again anonymously, to a private U.S. collector for $ 95,000 USD/£ 56,581 GBP (Hammer price). In 2010, the painting was offered for sale at Christie’s, New York with an estimated price of $ 300,000 – 500,000 USD, but it did not find a buyer until eight years later.
Less familiar than other paintings by Tissot, Le goûter has been exhibited only twice: when it was on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1902 to 1907, and when it was included in the exhibition James Tissot at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, in 1984.
The Morning Ride (c. 1872-1876), another of James Tissot’s lesser-known paintings, was purchased at the 19th Century European Art sale at Sotheby’s, New York in 2012 for $1,874,500 USD/£ 1,160,681 GBP (Premium). It depicts a pallid woman of means, a convalescent or perhaps an invalid, being drawn in a donkey cart through a path bordered by multi-colored banks of rhododendrons in full bloom. Her ruddy-faced male companion, well dressed and sporting knee breeches, pauses in a casual and familiar manner to let her caress the blossoms. Her maid rides side-saddle on a donkey behind them. Tissot conveys the spring chill by the gloves they wear and the lady’s fur-trimmed coat and lap blanket.
By about 1898, the painting was with the Thomas McLean gallery, London. Decades later, it was owned by Hugo Hanak, a Czechoslovakian collector, who sold it at Parke Bernet, New York in 1944. It was acquired there by art historian and antiques dealer Jacques Helft (1891 – 1980), brother-in-law of art dealer Paul Rosenberg (1881 – 1959). Around 1955-56, The Morning Ride was with the Weitzner Gallery, New York, and about 1960, it was acquired by European aristocrat and noted collector Mrs. Monique Uzielli (née de Günzburg, 1913 – 2011), New York. Mrs. Uzielli was the great-granddaughter of Joseph, Baron Günzburg (1812 – 1878), a Jewish philanthropist, banker, and financier who helped fund the development of Russia’s railroad network.
In 1959, Mrs. Uzielli had purchased a Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment at East 92nd Street, featuring fabulous, 360-degree views over the city and Central Park with 4,780 square feet of terrace space; originally it was the top floor of the 14-story home of cereal heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post. Mrs. Uzielli’s tastes as a collector ranged from early Southeast Asian sculpture to European art to the 1960s couture gowns she gave to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mrs. Uzielli occasionally loaned The Morning Ride to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for exhibitions from 1975 to 1993. She died in Montreux, Switzerland in October 2011, and by January, 2012, her 1925 penthouse was put on the market for $29,500,000 [and sold for $30.9 million in 2014]. Her Tissot painting was sold to a private collector at the beginning of May.
Will the new owners of Le goûter and The Morning Ride share them with the public now and then – especially with the James Tissot retrospective in Paris and San Francisco approaching in 2019-2020?
© 2018 Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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For further reading:
A guide to the gilded age mansions of 5th Avenue’s millionaire row, by Michelle Young, August 22, 2017.
The two Mrs. Vanderbilts, by David Patrick Columbia and Jeffrey Hirsch, December 31, 2007.
The Vanderbilts: How American Royalty Lost Their Crown Jewels, by Natalie Robehmed, July 14, 2014.
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).
NOTE: 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.