Monthly Archives: March 2020

“Berthe,” “Sunday Morning,” and “The Newspaper”

To cite this article: Paquette, Lucy. ““Berthe,” “Sunday Morning,” and “The Newspaper”.” The Hammock. <Date viewed.>


In March, 1883, a few months after Kathleen Newton’s death and James Tissot’s return to Paris, he mounted a large retrospective exhibition of his work that also included eight new pastels. Among them were Le Journal (The Newspaper) and Dimanche Matin (Sunday Morning). Tissot’s pastels were a critical and popular success, during a great revival of the medium that included Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas as well as Giovanni Boldini, Paul César Helleu, and Jean-Louis Forain.

Popular during the Rococo period in France during the eighteenth century, the use of pastels came to be disparaged as the mark of minor artists with frivolous, sentimental subject matter; later, due to its softness and delicacy, pastel was considered an art form suitable for women. The medium became valued for its expressive qualities after it was used with a new creativity in the mid-nineteenth century by Jean-François Millet, and then by the Impressionists during their exhibitions of the 1870s.

As Tissot worked on his La Femme à Paris (Women of Paris, 1883-85) series of fifteen large-scale oil paintings, he executed pastel portraits of numerous prominent Belle Époque parisiennes. But The Newspaper, Sunday Morning, and another pastel, Berthe, featured anonymous models in charming and memorable compositions which he reproduced as prints. Interestingly, while the La Femme à Paris pictures were a critical and popular failure, partly due to their stiff, awkward compositions, pastels seemed to free Tissot up, allowing him the spontaneity not often seen in his oils. And while the subjects of La Femme à Paris were criticized for appearing as “always the same Englishwoman,” the subjects of these three pastels are clearly chic, modern Frenchwomen.

Portrait de jeune femme.

Berthe (1883), by James Tissot. Pastel. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Public domain.

James Tissot, 1883, Berthe, print, RISD, 273276

Berthe (1883), by James Tissot. Etching and drypoint. Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Public domain.

In Berthe, a sweet-faced woman wearing a straw bonnet reclines on a large golden cushion atop a blue divan. Though Berthe is young, she gazes at the viewer with a direct, straightforward demeanor of independence and confidence.

Unusually Impressionistic for Tissot, this work is highly finished only in the figure’s face, hat, right hand and arm, and the magnificent bow at her throat, with a loose treatment of her lower body. Dry color in stick form, pastels were particularly suited to this sketchy style.

While Berthe was not exhibited until 1885 with La Femme à Paris, at Galerie Sedelmeyer in Paris, and in London in 1886, the etching after it is dated 1883.

This pastel is now in the collection of the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris.

The etched version is in the opposite direction of the pastel. Note how the creases of the dress across the woman’s torso are more defined in this version.

James Tissot, 1883, Sunday Morning, print, RISD, 273275

Sunday Morning (Le dimanche matin, 1883), by James Tissot. Etching and drypoint on paper. Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Public domain.

Sunday Morning (Le Dimanche matin) shows a woman, the model from Berthe, carrying a missal on her way to church. The pastel was exhibited at the Palais de l’industrie in 1883. Its current whereabouts are unknown.


Le Journal

The Newspaper (Le journal, 1883), by James Tissot. Pastel. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Public domain.

James Tissot, 1883, Le Journal, print, Clark, 1989.18

The Newspaper (Le journal, 1883), by James Tissot. Etching and drypoint. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Public domain.

The Newspaper (Le journal, 1883) depicts a sophisticated, modern woman, keeping au courant by reading the newspaper, and wearing a stylish hat and coat and elegant pince-nez. She is older than the woman in Berthe and Sunday Morning, and projects a settled self-reliance as she immerses herself in the news. Tissot has drawn a ring on the third finger of her left hand, indicating she is married and therefore respectable. The ring may not have been visible had Tissot depicted her holding the paper in the more usual manner.

The pastel, now in the collection of the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, was exhibited at the Palais de l’industrie in 1883 and at the Galerie Sedelmeyer in 1885, alongside Tissot’s series of fifteen large-scale paintings of various incarnations of modern parisiennes, La Femme à Paris (Women of Paris).

In the etched version, Tissot added chestnut leaves behind the woman’s head, setting her outdoors. Curiously, in the reversed composition, Tissot chose to show the woman’s wedding ring on the third finger of her right hand – a cue as to her marital status that also provides a note of visual interest between the light form of the newspaper and the dark form of the woman’s torso.

Pastels are sensitive to light and not often on public display.

Related posts:

Belle Époque Portraits in Pastel by James Tissot

James Tissot’s Prints

Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series

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