To cite this article: Paquette, Lucy. “James Tissot’s Prints.” The Hammock. https://thehammocknovel.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/james-tissots-prints/. <Date viewed.>
In 1860 and 1861, James Tissot experimented with etching, making a half-dozen plates as he participated in the etching revival in France, which began in the mid-nineteenth century with artists of the Barbizon School. Tissot’s early prints were based on subjects unrelated to his oil paintings, such as Portrait of a Woman (1860).Etching was declared “all the fashion” by Baudelaire in 1862, the year that Alphonse Legros, Félix Braquemond and the publisher Alfred Cadart formed the Société des Aquafortistes, which soon included James McNeill Whistler and his brother-in-law, Seymour Haden.
In 1865, two steel engravings after Tissot’s illustrations were included on the frontispiece and title page of Tom Taylor’s English translation of La Villemarque’s Barzaz-Breiz, Chants populaires de la Bretagne, which also featured several wood engravings in the text after J.E. Millais and others. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was so impressed by Tissot’s contributions that he requested a proof of each from the publisher.
Six years later, in 1871, Tissot’s drawings of figures from the Franco-Prussian War provided the basis for several wood engravings to illustrate his friend Thomas Gibson Bowles’ book, The Defence of Paris, Narrated As It Was Seen. Tissot emigrated to London after the Paris Commune that spring, and the following year, one of the paintings he exhibited at the Royal Academy, Les Adieux, was such a success that a steel engraving after the picture was subsequently published in London. In 1874, Tissot’s (How We Read the) News of our Marriage also was reproduced commercially as a steel engraving. Both of these engravings were displayed at the International Exhibition in London in 1874. The popularity of these prints and the lucrative market for reproductions of popular Academy pictures led Tissot to realize the financial potential in producing his own reproductive engravings.Tissot’s great friend, Whistler, produced A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects (The Thames Set), published in London by Ellis and Green in 1871 to high praise. Tissot resumed etching, developing his technique under the tutelage of Seymour Haden, in 1875, and that year created three Frontispieces, featuring symbolic female nudes, to publish in a portfolio of his drypoint prints, but he decided not to use them. When he issued Ten Etchings the following year, they included some based on his illustrations for Bowles’ book, The Defence of Paris.
Tissot published Ten Etchings himself from his home studio in Grove End Road – without a dealer, an uncommon practice for artists at the time. He rapidly perfected his technique. Quarrelling is the first of Tissot’s paintings known to be reproduced by him; Lovers’ Quarrel, the etching after the painting, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876, along with an etching of The Thames.
In 1876 and 1877, Tissot exhibited his prints in “L’exposition des ouvrages exécuté en noir et blanc,” Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris and “Exhibition of Works in Black and White,” Dudley Gallery, London. In 1878 and 1879, he exhibited his etchings alongside his oil paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, among other venues.
Although Tissot kept a printing press in his studio, where he supervised the making of his prints (and retained the reproduction rights), he used a professional printer for larger editions.
In 1880, Tissot became a charter member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, founded by Seymour Haden for artists who produced their own prints of their paintings, and he began exhibiting his prints regularly in England and Scotland through the end of the decade, contributing works to shows including “Manchester Exhibition of Works in Black and White,” “Exhibition of Works in Black and White, Glasgow,” and an exhibition with the Society of Painter-Etchers in London in 1881.
Tissot’s etchings account for a significant and increasing proportion of his earnings between 1876 and 1881. His subjects were often based on his domestic arrangement with his young mistress, Kathleen Newton, who moved into his house in St. John’s Wood around 1876 and appeared in about two dozen of his prints, and her two children.
In May, 1882, he held a one-man exhibition at the Dudley Gallery, London, “J.J. Tissot” An Exhibition of Modern Art,” which included twelve oil paintings and twenty-one cloisonné enamels as well as fifty-eight etchings.
After Kathleen Newton died in November 1882 and Tissot moved to Paris, he took a number of the plates he had made in London and used them to make a substantial number of copies throughout that decade, offering them for sale during his exhibition of prints in Paris in 1886. The Paris editions were printed on heavier paper (often cream-colored) in brown-black ink, and though often stamped, they are rarely signed in pencil. Tissot carefully numbered these prints and the editions were smaller.
He also produced new plates in Paris, including five etchings made after oil paintings in his series La Femme à Paris.
Occasionally, particularly when living in London, Tissot experimented with antique, Japanese, and colored papers, as well as vellum, and he sometimes used colored inks.
When Tissot signed a print in pencil (never in ink), it indicated he considered it outstanding; pencil-signed copies of most of his prints are rare. Almost all copies of four of Tissot’s prints are signed and seem to have been issued in relatively small editions: Mavourneen (1877), October (1878), Emigrants (1880), and In the Sunlight (1881). He had begun using the red monogram stamp on his first prints in 1860 and continued to use it on those he considered superior – though not consistently.
According to Tissot scholar Dr. Willard E. Misfeldt, there is no reliable guide to the number of Tissot’s prints that were made. However, William Weston, when exhibiting Tissot prints at his London gallery in 1984, observed in the accompanying catalogue that there were two editions of some of Tissot’s prints – a London printing and a Paris printing. Prints made in London, generally by Frederick Goulding (1842–1909, described by Haden in 1879 as “the best printer of etchings in England just now”), were done in small editions, usually on white, thin laid papers in black or brown-black ink, and often were stamped and signed in pencil by Tissot. These high-quality impressions of Tissot’s finest and most popular prints are scarce today.
Another professional printer whom Tissot entrusted with his work was Auguste Delâtre (1822-1907), of whom Haden said, “if Rembrandt lived now, he would send his plates to Delâtre.”
In all, Tissot made about ninety plates between 1860 and 1885. His major prints from the end of this period are the five etchings made after paintings from his series La Femme à Paris. He ceased making prints after 1885, and the following year issued a small promotional catalogue of his prints in Paris. Yet sales of Tissot’s prints declined steeply after this date, and while he seems to have stopped advertising them, he contributed to exhibitions including “Exposition de gravures du siècle,” Galerie Georges Petit (1887), and “Exposition de Peintres-Graveurs at Galerie Durand-Ruel (1889), both in Paris.
According to research by Dr. Misfeldt, Tissot’s carnet, or account book, shows that he earned an increasing amount of his annual income through sales of his prints. In 1876, 2.56% of his income was from prints, a figure that peaked at 74% in 1884, (then dropped sharply until it reached 71% in 1889 and suddenly became negligible).
Mavourneen, featuring Kathleen Newton, was the most popular of his prints.
Over 5,000 unsold impressions of his prints were found in James Tissot’s studio after his death in 1902. Sold at his estate auction in 1903, many of these prints were available at a Paris gallery for years afterward.
Tissot’s prints now sell in the general range of $1,000-10,000 USD, depending on quality, subject matter, and scarcity. In 2013, a particularly fine etching and drypoint print of Tissot’s Octobre (1878), from the edition of approximately one hundred and signed and stamped by the artist, was sold for $ 28,000 USD (Hammer) at auction in New York.
Note: I am neither an art dealer nor an appraiser, and can offer no valuation of fine art prints.
“Fourteen Etchings by J.J. Tissot,” by Michael Wentworth, The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Summer, 1968).
James Tissot: Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints, by Michael J. Wentworth. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1978.
J.J. Tissot: Prints from the Gotlieb Collection, by Willard E. Misfeldt. Alexandria, Virginia: Art Services International, 1991.
“The Revival of the Artist-Etcher in the Victorian Era,” by Michael Blaker R.E., Senior Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/graphics/blaker.html. <Accessed 16 October 2019.>
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