Tag Archives: Édouard Manet

The Company He Kept: James Tissot’s Friends

If a person can be known by the company he keeps, James Tissot’s friends indicate he was charming, broad-minded and cultured, interested in music and literature as well as art, resourceful, and unafraid of change.  Described as reserved, he had a strong work ethic and spent a great deal of time working in his studio.  But he seems to have made friends easily and maintained numerous mutually satisfying relationships over many years – with both men and women, of varied ages, religions, backgrounds, and temperaments.


James Tissot, age 20-21

Jacques Joseph Tissot’s first friend may have been his mother.  When he realized that what he really wanted was a career in art instead of architecture, his businessman father was less than thrilled.  His father told him that if he was determined to pursue this unreliable profession, he was going to have to make it on his own – with no financial help.  But his mother found a connection for him in Paris, and Jacques left home at 19, in 1856 (i.e before he turned 20 that October).

Within three years of his arrival in Paris, Tissot was ready to exhibit his work at the Salon.  Competing with established artists, the 23-year-old student submitted five entries for the Salon of 1859.  The jury accepted them all, including Portrait de Mme T…, a small oil painting of his mother.  With her belief in him, his career in the capital of the European art world was launched.


James Whistler

When Jacques Joseph Tissot exhibited in the Salon, it was as James Tissot – and it’s likely he borrowed the name from another young art student, James Whistler.

It is thought that when Tissot registered for permission to copy paintings at the Louvre on January 26, 1857, he met the pugnacious American James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903), reportedly while copying Ingres’ 1819 Ruggiero Freeing Angelica side by side in the Luxembourg Museum.


Self-Portrait with White Collar (c. 1857), by Edgar Degas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Lucy Paquette)

In 1859, Tissot met another art student, with whom he became close friends – Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917).  Degas, the curmudgeonly son of a prosperous banker from Naples and a mother from New Orleans, had spent the previous three years traveling in central Italy.  Probably through Degas, Tissot soon met the charismatic, restless Édouard Manet (1832–1883).


Lawrence Alma-Tadema

In 1859, Tissot traveled to Antwerp, augmenting his art education by taking lessons in the studio of Belgian painter Hendrik Leys.  There he made friends with a young Dutch art student working with Leys, Lourens Tadema (1836 – 1912; the painter moved to London in 1870 and restyled himself Lawrence Alma-Tadema).

Alma-Tadema’s personality combined middle-class sensibilities with a ribald sense of humor.  He was an extrovert who loved wine, women, music, and practical jokes.


Édouard Manet


Emmanuel Chabrier, by Édouard Manet

Though still living in the dilapidated Latin Quarter at 29, Tissot was enjoying increasing professional success and was described as a boulevardier – a man-about-town.  In addition to painters, his friends included the poet Camille-André Lemoyne (1822 – 1907), “a man of modesty and merit” who dedicated a published poem, “Baigneuse,” to Tissot in 1860, and composer, pianist and bon vivant Emmanuel Chabrier (1841 – 1894), whose portrait Tissot drew in 1861.  His circles often overlapped; Chabrier, for example, was friends with Degas and Manet as well.


John Everett Millais

In 1862, Tissot traveled to London, where the first exhibition of his work was at the International Exhibition.  He showed one of his début paintings from the Paris Salon of 1859, and he must have met Britain’s most popular painter, John Everett Millais (1829  1896).  Warm-hearted, boyish, and boundlessly self-confident, Millias had a wife and five children to provide for by this time.  He found a steady source of income drawing illustrations, for periodicals such as Once a Week and The Cornhill Magazine as well as Tennyson’s Poems (1857) and Anthony Trollope’s novel Framley Parsonage (1860).  James Tissot, at 26, having inherited his parents’ business sense, was exploring a new art market and making useful contacts.


Alphonse Daudet

In 1863, Tissot became close friends with Alphonse Daudet (1840 – 1897), a young writer who had published a volume of poetry (The Lovers) in 1858, and who rented the room below him in the rue Bonaparte.  Daudet, who was kind, hard-working, generous and sociable, was employed as a secretary to the Duc de Morny, the Emperor’s illegitimate half-brother who served as a powerful appointed minister.  He eventually became wealthy from his novels, in which he wrote about the poor and downtrodden with sympathy, and his friendship with Tissot was a lifelong one.

In 1864, the year Millais was elected a member of the Royal Academy, Tissot again exhibited work in London:  two pictures on display at the Society of British Artists, and a small oil painting at the Royal Academy Exhibition.  In France, Tissot associated, loosely, with a band of artistic rebels led by Manet – men who met at the Café de Bade to debate the purpose of art and express their frustration with the rigidity of the Paris art Establishment.  But Tissot was a traditionalist at heart.  He must have admired Millais – as a man, as a painter, and as a successful businessman.  In 1865, Tom Taylor’s Ballads and Songs of Brittany was published in London, illustrated by several artists including Millais and Tissot, who provided the Frontispiece and further widened his reputation in Great Britain.


Ernest Meissonier


Ferdinand Heilbuth

In 1866, the thirty-year-old artist bought land to build a villa on the most prestigious of Baron Haussmann’s grand new Parisian boulevards, the eleven-year-old avenue de l’Impératrice (now avenue Foch).  By the Salon of 1868, Tissot had occupied his newly built, elegant mansion in the splendid avenue, the place to see and be seen amid the heady delights of life in the imperial capital.  But an early biographer asserted that there were no parties or receptions in this home, as Tissot dreaded the noise; he hosted only quiet gatherings with intimates such as Degas, eminent painter and sculptor Ernest Meissonier (1815 –1891), and painter Ferdinand Heilbuth (1826 – 1889).


Alfred Stevens

Tissot and wildly successful Belgian painter Alfred Stevens (1823 –1906) moved in the same social circle, which included Manet, Degas, Frédéric Bazille, Berthe Morisot and Whistler as well as Alma-Tadema.  Stevens and his wife held regular receptions at their home on Wednesdays.  Tissot may have preferred quiet evenings with his friends in his new villa, but in early 1868, he scribbled a hurried message to Degas on the back of a used envelope when he found Degas away from his studio:  “I shall be at Stevens’ house tonight.”  He had dropped by to give Degas advice on finishing a problematic painting-in-progress, Interior (The Rape) before the Salon deadline.

Tissot appears to have been content to live well and maintain a fairly low profile in the art world he had conquered within a decade of his arrival as a provincial art student.  Oddly, there are almost no references to Tissot in letters, journals or accounts of his chatty friends and acquaintances during this time, even though his studio was a chic gathering place, and it is likely he visited crowded, gossipy weekly soirées such as those hosted by Madame Manet (Edouard’s formidable mother) on Tuesdays, the Stevenses on Wednesdays, and Madame Morisot (Berthe’s formidable mother) on Thursdays.

In 1869, Tissot began contributing political cartoons to the newest Society journal in London, Vanity Fair, founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841 – 1922).  Tommy Bowles was the illegitimate son of Thomas Milner Gibson (1806 – 1884), a Liberal MP for Manchester and President of the Board of Trade from 1859 to 1866, and a servant, Susannah Bowles.  Tommy’s father (and even his father’s wife, Arethusa Susannah, a Society hostess who was the daughter of Sir Thomas Gery Cullum of Hardwick House, Suffolk, and their six children) acknowledged him.  Tissot, at 33, was famous in Paris.  Tommy, a handsome blue-eyed blonde, was five or six years younger and making a name for himself, even in France, with his controversial articles in London’s Morning Post.

It is strange, the life Tissot led – an exclusive address and titled patrons in Paris and yet close friends with the individualistic, struggling Edgar Degas (who ceased to exhibit in the Salon after this year, due to his discontent with it), the illegitimate and irreverent London publisher Tommy Bowles, and the renegade James Whistler, who was considered belligerent and uncouth by this time.

It seems that James Tissot was a peaceable, refined, and multifaceted gentleman, truly his own man – in a world about to implode.

The Franco-Prussian War united Tissot and Tommy Bowles, who raced to Paris as a war correspondent.  Because there were not enough French troops, a National Guard – a volunteer militia independent of the regular army – was forming to defend Paris.  On Friday, September 9, 1870, Tommy was surveying the scene of Garde Mobile squads drilling or wandering around along the avenue de l’Impératrice [near James Tissot’s sumptuous villa at No. 64], “when my hand was suddenly seized, and I found myself talking to one of my smartest Parisian friends [James Tissot] who had donned the blue uniform like everybody else.  He was delighted to see me.”  Tissot gamely promised that if there was a sortie, he would make sure that Tommy had the chance to see some action.  [Tissot scholar Willard E. Misfeldt learned that James Tissot actually had enlisted in the Garde Nationale de la Seine, the Fourth Company of the Eighteenth Battalion, in 1855 – as soon as he had arrived in Paris at age 19.]

In early October, military operations blocked access to Tissot’s new villa, and he turned up at Bowles’ rented apartments.  Tommy observed affectionately of his friend, “We neither of us have got any money left, but we propose to support each other by our mutual credit…and to share our last rat together.  Meantime we are not greatly to be pitied.  Our joint domestic, Jean, one of those handy creatures yet to be invented in England, makes our beds, scrubs the floor, brushes the clothes, cooks like a cordon bleu, and is, as we believe and fervently hope, capable of producing any explanation or invention that may be required by persons in search of payment.  He has been especially successful as regards meat.”  The British journalist and the French painter shared a mischievous sense of humor, numerous dangerous sorties – and strong survival instincts.


The Tirailleurs de la Seine at the Battle of Rueil-Malmaison, 21st October 1870 (1875), by Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour. (Oil on canvas, 103×203 cm; Château de Versailles, France; Giraudon). Photo courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” by Lucy Paquette © 2012

On October 21, 1870, the men in Tissot’s unit – the Éclaireurs of the Seine, an elite unit of scouts and snipers (tirailleurs) – “one and all Parisians of the purest type” according to Tommy Bowles – were sent to fight in the Battle of Malmaison (also referred to as the Battle of Rueil-Malmaison, or La Jonchère, for the nearby towns), west of Paris.  [See James Tissot and The Artists’ Brigade, 1870-71.]

During the war, James Tissot fought with valor on the front line, and he later volunteered as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer.  Then he became involved in the bloody civil uprising that followed, the Paris Commune.  He fled to London with a hundred francs in his pocket.  There, he had plenty of friends to help him rebuild his life.

Oxford Portraits

Chichester Fortescue

Besides Tommy Bowles, there was Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1821 – 1879), an influential Liberal Society hostess whose fourth and final husband was Chichester Fortescue (1823 – 1898), an Irish MP, who became Lord Carlingford.  Tissot may have met her through Millais, who frequented her salons.  She shared Tissot’s interest in spiritualism and painting, and at some point, Tissot painted her portrait in her boudoir.  (The portrait, whereabouts unknown, was not considered a good likeness.)

In 1871 – shortly after Tissot fled Paris – the charming and “irresistible” Countess Waldegrave pulled strings to get Tissot a lucrative commission to paint a full-length portrait of Fortescue, which was funded by a group of eighty-one Irishmen including forty-nine MPs, five Roman Catholic bishops and twenty-seven peers to commemorate his term as Chief Secretary for Ireland under Gladstone – as a present to his wife.



Tissot also was friendly with Society novelist Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé, 1839 – 1908); on June 19, 1871, she sent him an invitation to visit on June 21, with the promise that “some English artists will enjoy the great pleasure of meeting you & seeing your sketches.”  Described as having a “sinister, clever face” and a “voice like a carving knife,” Ouida lived in the Langham Hotel, where surrounded by purple flowers, she wrote on large sheets of violet-colored notepaper in bed by candlelight.  Her lavish soirées included celebrities such as Oscar Wilde, J.E. Millais. Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Wilkie Collins, along with dozens of handsome guard officers.


The Captain and the Mate, (1873), by James Tissot. The Captain and the Mate (1873), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 53.6 by 76.2 cm. Private Collection. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” © 2012 Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, © 2012

Once Tissot moved to London in 1871, he continually sought “British” subject matter, always offering it up with a French twist.  He soon found a friend in Captain John Freebody (1834 – 1899), master of the Arundel Castle from 1872-73, when he took emigrants to America.  Captain Freebody’s wife, Margaret Kennedy (1840 – 1930), modeled for The Captain’s Daughter, set at the Falcon Tavern in Gravesend.  Tissot exhibited The Captain’s Daughter, as well as two other paintings [The Last Evening (1873) and Too Early (1873)], at the Royal Academy in 1873.

Two other paintings featuring Margaret Kennedy are in a private collection:  Boarding the Yacht (1873) and The Captain and the Mate (1873), in which Margaret’s older brother, red-bearded Captain Lumley Kennedy (1819 – 1899), and her sister posed as well.   Tissot, having grown up in the bustling seaport of Nantes, where his father was a successful wholesale linen draper (a trader in fabrics and dress trimmings to retailers and exporters), must have felt quite comfortable with sailors and their families.

Within a few years of hard work and help from such friends, Tissot bought the leasehold to a house in St. John’s Wood, at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road, and built an extension with a studio and a conservatory.  A handsome and talented 35-year-old Parisian, he earned and returned the respect of intelligent and capable women.


Louise Jopling

British painter Louise Jopling (1843 – 1933) lived in Paris from 1865 to 1869, when her ne’er-do-well husband, Frank Romer, was sent packing by his employer, Baron de Rothschild.  Louise had been painting with the encouragement of the Baroness, a watercolor artist, and after moving to London, Louise continued painting despite numerous hardships.  Her work was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibitions after 1870, and she met “that extraordinarily clever French artist, James Tissot,” when his
picture, Too Early, “made a great sensation” at the 1873 exhibition.  Tissot gave her a sketch of Gravesend he made that year.  In her 1925 autobiography, Louise wrote of him, “James Tissot was a charming man, very handsome.”

Louise proved to be an excellent source of information on Tissot’s personality, including this anecdote about a day they spent with Ferdinand Heilbuth.  She wrote, “Heilbuth was a delightful man as well as an excellent painter.  He was a great friend of Tissot…One day, before I was married, he arrived at my studio and said he had a letter from Tissot, who begged him to come round to me and try to induce [my sister] Alice and I to come spend the day at Greenwich where he was painting his charming pictures of scenes by the Thames.  I was to bring my sketching materials.  I had promised [my fiancé] Joe to give him a sitting for my portrait, but it was much too delightful a project not to be accepted with fervor.  I wired to Joe, “Called out of town on business.”


Berthe Morisot, by Édouard Manet

Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895) also appreciated Tissot.   He socialized frequently in 1875, inviting Berthe Morisot to dinner at his home in St. John’s Wood when she was in England for her honeymoon.  She wrote to her sister, Edma Pontillon, “We went to see Tissot, who does very pretty things that he sells at high prices; he is living like a king.  We dined there.  He is very nice, a very good fellow, though a little vulgar.  We are on the best of terms; I paid him many compliments, and he really deserves them.”

During the same trip, Berthe wrote to her mother, “[I was dragged out of bed] just now by a letter from Tissot – an invitation to dinner for tomorrow night.  I had to get up and ransack everything to find a clean sheet of paper in order to reply.”  Later, she added, “He was very amiable, and complimented me although he has probably never seen any of my work.”

In 1873, Tissot joined the Arts Club in Hanover Square, and in 1875, Italian painter Giuseppe De Nittis (1846 –1884) wrote to his wife, Léontine, “I saw Tissot at the club, he was very nice, very friendly.”

In 1874, Degas invited both Tissot and De Nittis to display their work in the first exhibition by the French artists who would become known as the Impressionists.  Tissot was achieving success in London and declined, but De Nittis accepted.


Sir Julius Benedict


Self-Portrait, Giuseppe Di Nittis

Another member of the Arts Club with whom Tissot was friendly was Sir Julius Benedict (1804 – 1885), the German-born composer and conductor who is portrayed as the pianist in Tissot’s Hush! (The Concert, 1875).  The son of a Jewish banker, Benedict became a naturalised Englishman and was knighted in 1871.

After spending several weeks in Venice with Manet, Tissot dined at his friend Jimmy Whistler’s three-storey townhouse in Lindsey Row, Chelsea on November 16, 1875 with Alan S. Cole (1846 – 1934, a lace and textile expert who was the son of Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the South Kensington Museum, now the V&A), independent-minded, outspoken painter Albert Moore (1841 – 1893) and Captain Crabb (commander of The Brazilian in 1870) on topics such as “ideas on art unfettered by principles.”


George Adolphus Storey

On December 7, Tissot returned to dine with Jimmy, his patron Cyril Flower (1843 – 1907, later Lord Battersea), and painter George Adolphus Storey (1834 – 1919); they conversed on the works of Balzac.

Storey, in his 1899 memoirs, described a high-spirited “railway picnic party” in 1873 with men he referred to as intellectuals:  Tissot, Heilbuth, Philip Hermogenes Calderon, R.A. (1833 – 1898), George Dunlop Leslie, A.R.A. (1835 – 1921), David Wilkie Wynfield (1837–1887), William Yeames, A.R.A. (1835 – 1918), Frederick Walker (1840 – 1875), editor Shirley Brooks (1816 – 1874) and “the Punch men,” pianist, conductor and composer Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852 – 1935), and a host of others returning from a grand house party in Manchester hosted by art dealer William Agnew (1825 – 1910).  Opera star Charles Santley (1834 – 1922), Storey added, “sang us many of his delightful songs.”


Mavourneen (Portrait of Kathleen Newton, 1877). Oil on canvas, 36 in. /91.44 cm. by 20 in./50.80 cm. Photo courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library for use in “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” © 2012 by Lucy Paquette

As desirable he was as a guest, Tissot must have enjoyed entertaining in his turn.  Louise Jopling noted of Tissot, “At one time he was very hospitable, and delightful were the dinners he gave.  But these ceased when he became absorbed in a grande passion with a married woman.”

Around 1876, Tissot met Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), an Irish divorcée in her early twenties with a four-year-old daughter and a son born on March 21, 1876.  [See James Tissot’s Model and Muse, Kathleen Newton and Was Cecil Newton James Tissot’s son?]  Being Roman Catholic, Tissot and Kathleen could not marry, but she moved into his house in St. John’s Wood.


Sir Charles Wyndham


Sir Henry Irving

Kathleen’s two children lived with her sister’s family around the corner, and they and their cousins visited Kathleen and Tissot regularly.  Tissot’s social life drastically changed, and he must have judged his love affair with the discarded young beauty well worth the sacrifice.  Though cohabitation was common in Victorian England, especially in bohemian circles, it was not socially acceptable to most people in the middle and upper classes.

Though Tissot and Mrs. Newton were not invited out, their friendship was valued, and plenty of lively friends sought their company.  One of Kathleen’s nieces, interviewed as an adult, recalled, “Whistler and Oscar Wilde, with his brother Willie, were constant visitors,” as were actor Henry Irving (1838 – 1905), actor-manager Charles Wyndham (1837 – 1919), and actress Miss Mary Moore (1860 – 1931, who became Wyndham’s second wife in 1916, the year he was widowed).  Tommy Bowles, his longtime friend, remained a frequent visitor and introduced others including landscape painter William Stone (c. 1840 – 1913), who “often had tea in the garden with Tissot and the lady.”  Stone, perhaps revealing the essence of Tissot’s charm, observed, “Tissot was quite a boulevardier and could not grasp our somewhat puritanical outlook.”

© 2017 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

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Related posts:

On his own: Tissot as a Paris art student, 1855 — 1858

James Tissot & Tommy Bowles Brave the Siege Together: October 1870

James Tissot and The Artists’ Brigade, 1870-71

James Tissot the Collector:  His works by Degas, Manet & Pissarro

James Tissot and Alfred Stevens

James Tissot: Portraits of the Artist

CH377762If 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.

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.


What became of James Tissot and Alfred Stevens?

Note:  This is the second part of an earlier post, James Tissot and Alfred Stevens

By 1867, James Tissot (1836 – 1902), like his older friend and mentor, Alfred Stevens (1823 – 1906), was a wealthy easel painter, well-connected and prominent in Paris, both depicting the affluent life of Second Empire France.

A Duchess (The Blue Dress, c. 1866), by Alfred Stevens. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. (Photo: Wikicultured.com)

At the Rifle Range (1869), by James Tissot. Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, U.K. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

They were so successful that the painter Henri Fantin-Latour warned James Whistler that Stevens and Tissot would imitate his Symphony in White No. 3 (1865-67), sent to Paris in 1867.

After his success at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, when Stevens exhibited eighteen paintings, he was promoted to Officer of the Legion d’honneur.  According to Berthe Morisot, he was earning about 100,000 francs a year.  He had moved several times, always to a more luxurious home.

In late 1867 or early 1868, Tissot moved into the splendid new villa he had built near the recreational grounds at the Bois de Bologne, at the west end of the chic avenue de l’Impératrice [now avenue Foch].

But abruptly, everything changed.  On July 15, 1870, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, heeding his advisors in a diplomatic quarrel regarding the succession to the Spanish throne, declared war on Prussia – and its well-equipped and impeccably-trained army.

Because there were not enough French troops, a National Guard – a hastily-organized, inexperienced militia protecting Paris – was forming to defend Paris.  Every able-bodied Frenchman enlisted.  The volunteers were mostly assigned tasks such as standing guard at the city walls or public buildings.

Stevens, the son of a former officer under France’s first Empire, was a Belgian citizen but asked the Mayor of France to join the National Guard, saying, “I have been in Paris for twenty years, I married a Parisian, my children were born in Paris, my talent, if I have it, I owe it largely to France.”  Now 47, he was assigned to a unit which did not see much action.

On Friday, September 9, James Tissot was among the squads drilling along the avenue de l’Impératrice (near his sumptuous, three-year-old villa).  [Tissot scholar Willard E. Misfeldt learned that James Tissot actually had enlisted in the Garde Nationale de la Seine, the Fourth Company of the Eighteenth Battalion, in 1855 – as soon as he had arrived in Paris at age 19.].

On September 19, 200,000 Prussian troops encircled Paris in attempt to starve the French into submission.  By October 22, James Tissot was armed and fighting on the front line – as well as saving lives as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer.

In the months following the Franco-Prussian War and its bloody aftermath, the Paris Commune, Stevens convinced art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to purchase over twenty canvases by Edouard Manet, one of his many friends.

The Game of Croquet (La Partie de Croquet, 1873), by Edouard Manet. Painted in Alfred Stevens’ garden; Stevens is the figure in the yellow jacket. Städel Museum, Frankfort, Germany. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice, 1875), by Edouard Manet. Shelburne Museum, VT. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

James Tissot moved to London and rebuilt his career.  By 1873, he was living in a large house in St. John’s Wood, and in 1875, he built an extension with an elegant studio.  That fall, he traveled to Venice with Edouard Manet and his wife, Suzanne, and he bought Manet’s The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice, 1875).

Tissot did not marry, but from 1876, his young mistress lived with him.  When she died of tuberculosis in November, 1882, Tissot left her two children by one or more previous relationships and moved back to Paris, where he attempted to reclaim his earlier renown.

Upon Manet’s death in 1883, the pallbearers at his funeral included Stevens, Zola, Proust, Duret, Fantin-Latour and Monet, but not James Tissot.  Stevens helped to organize Manet’s memorial exhibition a year later.

Stevens, who had married Marie Blanc, a wealthy Parisian, in 1858 and had four children (two of whom also became painters), continued to live extravagantly in Paris.  There he was discovered by several prominent American collectors, including railway mogul William Henry Vanderbilt (1821 – 1885), Baltimore liquor wholesaler William T. Walters (1820 – 1894), and New York sugar refiner Theodore A. Havemeyer (1839–1897).

Sarah Bernhardt (1882), by Alfred Stevens. Photo: http://www.the-athenaeum.org)

Around 1875, Stevens moved into a sumptuous 18th century residence at 65, rue des Martyrs, near Place Pigalle, with a large English garden.  Stevens’ studio was styled to resemble a large Japanese cabinet, with walls of dull gold, black and gold lacquered doors, gilded furniture, and a Japanese shrine.  Over the embroidered, white silk window-shades hung gold brocade draperies, the floors were covered in Oriental carpets, and the windows overlooked a large English garden.  He collected antiques, Old Masters paintings, and Japanese prints and objets d’art including kimonos, parasols, fans, screens and porcelains.

Stevens received writers, painters, musicians and theater people, and he frequented the Café Tortoni and the Café Riche.  He started a private atelier which drew wealthy students including Sarah Bernhardt [and incidentally, it is thought that they were lovers].  In 1878, Stevens was promoted to Commander of the Legion of Honor and received another first-class medal at the Salon.

Le salon du peintre (The Painter’s Salon, 1880), by Alfred Stevens. Private Collection. (Photo: http://www.the-athenaeum.org)


Rue Alfred Stevens, Paris. (Photo: Lucy Paquette)

In 1880, railroad manager William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849 – 1920) visited Stevens’s studio, saw Le salon du peintre (1880), and bought it on the spot for 50,000 francs.  But that year, Stevens was dispossessed as a result of road work during urbanization; he was paid 300,000 francs, and a nearby passage was named rue Alfred Stevens.  That year, he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, and his doctor advised him to spend summers at the seaside.  Stevens went to Sainte-Adresse in Normandy, and art dealer Georges Petit offered him a contract for 50, 000 francs a year for three years, for his entire output of marine paintings.  This was a stroke of fortune that helped Stevens fund his trips.  Flirting with Impressionism, he made oil sketches of the sea and the coast under changing weather conditions.

Lighthouse at Dusk, by Alfred Stevens. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

During Tissot’s eleven years in London, he had declined Edgar Degas’ invitation to show his work with the artists who became known as the Impressionists.  Now back in Paris, he exerted himself to re-establish his reputation with a series of fifteen large-scale pictures called La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman).  Painted between 1883 and 1885, they portrayed the fashionable parisienne in various incarnations using brighter, modern colors than he had in his previous work.

The Ladies of the Chariots (c. 1883-85), by James Tissot. Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

What Our Lord Saw From the Cross, by James Tissot. Brooklyn Museum, New York. (Photo: Wikimedia.org).

The project ended in 1885 with Tissot’s ambition to illustrate the Bible.  He traveled to the Holy Land that year, and again in 1889 and 1896, to make detailed drawings and notes of locations and details, taking photographs as well.  He produced 365 illustrations for the New Testament, of which 270 were exhibited at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars in 1894, causing women to fall to their knees with reverence and sob.  The illustrations were shown in London in 1896, again in Paris in 1897, and in America in 1898, when they raised over $100,000 in entrance fees and were purchased for $60,000 by the Brooklyn Museum.  The Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, illustrated by James Tissot, was published in France in 1896-97 and later in England and America.  Tissot was paid one million francs for the reproduction rights.  He still owned his house in Paris, and lived with style there and at the château near Besançon, France, that he had inherited upon his father’s death in 1888.  He spent increasing time there, working on illustrations of the Old Testament; English painter Louise Jopling (1843 – 1933) expressed the belief in her 1925 autobiography that Tissot had joined a Trappist monastery in Rome.

In 1886, Stevens published Impressions sur la peinture, (Impressions on Painting) which later was published in English and American editions.

But he also was involved in a greater work.

In 1883, painter Henri Gervex (1852 – 1929, perhaps best known for his 1878 painting, Rolla) conceived an idea for a joint project with Alfred Stevens for the Paris World Fair of 1889:  a grand panorama to be called History of the Century 1789-1889.  It would depict over 660 life-size figures of significant French men and women from one hundred years of French history between the Revolution to the present.  With a team of fifteen assistants that included Stevens’ son, Léopold, the resulting painting was 20 meters (65 ft.) high and had a circumference of 120 meters (nearly 400 ft.).  It was exhibited in a specially constructed rotunda in the Tuileries Gardens.

The History of the Century (detail), 1889, by Alfred Stevens, Henri Gervex, and a team of assistants. (Photo: http://www.the-athenaeum.org)

After the Exposition, the rotunda was pulled down.  No permanent installation could be found for the painting due to its size, and it was cut into 65 sections and distributed among various locations.  Only two-thirds of the sections have been preserved.  In addition to the photographs and twelve heliogravures from 1889 that captured the complete panorama, Stevens made four small sketches representing the whole panorama (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels) [also signed by Gervex for the sake of courtesy].

At the Salon du Champ de Mars in 1890, Stevens showed eleven works; in 1891, fourteen works; and in 1892 sixteen works.

His younger brother, Arthur, died in 1890, his wife, Marie, died in 1891, and his older brother, Joseph, in 1892.  In 1895, Stevens returned to Brussels with the intention of settling there, but when he applied for the vacant position of Director of the Brussels Academy, he was rejected.   In 1896, he returned to Paris and a year later, in need of money, tried to sell his replicas of the Panorama.

After an accidental fall at age 76, in 1899, Stevens was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  He lived in a few rooms in the avenue Trudaine, near Place d’Anvers.  He had four works in the Exposition Universelle in Paris In 1900.  Greatly respected and beloved by his peers, he also was given a special tribute with a retrospective at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he exhibited 205 pictures.  [Incidentally, there has not been an exhibition of Stevens’ work in Paris since this date.]  Stevens was the first living painter accorded this honor, and he also was the only living artist represented at the Retrospective Exposition of Belgian Art in Brussels, with thirty-one paintings.  [Click here for an image of Alfred Stevens from 1900.]

Portrait of the Pilgrim (c. 1886-1896), by James Tissot. Brooklyn Museum, NY. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

Ninety-five of James Tissot’s Old Testament illustrations were exhibited at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars in 1901, the last time his work was exhibited in Paris.  He died at age 65 the following summer after catching a chill outdoors at his château, and his illustrations toured America.  They were later purchased by the New York Public Library and passed to the Jewish Museum.

After a lifetime devoted to art, from which he had earned immense wealth, a sale of the effects from Tissot’s studio in 1903 resulted in the dispersal of his pictures and prints at very low prices.  Following the death of his elderly niece, the contents of the decrepit château near Besançon were auctioned off in November, 1964.

After Alfred Stevens’ death in 1906 at the age of 83, his obituary in a Boston newspaper extolled his genius and observed, “He was king of the boulevard in his day.”

James Tissot and Alfred Stevens, virtually forgotten for decades after their deaths, now are known for their entrancing images of the opulence of Paris life under the Second Empire.

“It all comes down to the degree of life and passion that an artist manages to put into his figure.  So long as they really live, a figure of a lady by Alfred Stevens, say, or some Tissots are also really magnificent.”  ~ Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, Theo, 1885

Related posts:

James Tissot and Alfred Stevens

Degas’ portrait: Tissot, the man-about-town, 1867

“Hurling towards the abyss”: The Second Empire, 1869

James Tissot and The Artists’ Brigade, 1870-71

Paris, June 1871

Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series

© Copyright Lucy Paquette 2015.  All rights reserved.

CH377762The 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.

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.

Tissot’s Brush with Impressionism

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.


Sometimes described as an Impressionist, James Tissot actually was a realist painter.  In fact he declined his friend Edgar Degas’ invitation in 1874 to exhibit his work with a loose group of French painters who would become known as Impressionists.

Tissot had moved to London in June, 1871, in the aftermath of the bloody Paris Commune following the Franco-Prussian War.  He rebuilt his lucrative career in England.

Degas wrote to him there, “Look here, my dear Tissot, no hesitations, no escape.  You positively must exhibit at the Boulevard.  It will do you good, you (for it is a means of showing yourself in Paris from which people said you were running away) and us too.”  But Tissot felt no need to identify himself with these struggling artists.

While his skillfully rendered atmospheric conditions accentuated, or added ambiguity, to his subject matter, he relied on studio models and photographs.

Tissot and his friend Edouard Manet traveled to Venice together in the fall of 1874, and Tissot bought Manet’s The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice) on March 24, 1875 for 2,500 francs.  Manet badly needed the income.  Tissot hung the painting in his home in St. John’s Wood, London, and did his best to interest English dealers in Manet’s work, though the effect of shimmering water created by Manet’s quick, broken brushstrokes was quite different from Tissot’s style.

Tissot did not experiment with painting en plein air until after the mid-1870s, even then using landscape almost exclusively as a background for his narrative paintings.  His most “Impressionistic” painting was A Civic Procession Descending Ludgate Hill, London (c. 1879).  [See James Tissot’s “A Civic Procession” (c. 1879).]

PHD661 Henley Regatta, c.1877 by Tissot, James Jacques Joseph (1836-1902) oil on canvas 46.5x94.5 Private Collection French, out of copyright

Henley Regatta, 1877 (1877). Oil on canvas, 18.25 by 37.5 in. (46.3 by 95.2 cm). Private Collection.

Henley Regatta, Henley-on-Thames, in the 1890s. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

How puzzling, then, that Tissot would have painted the panoramic Henley Regatta, 1877.  The view is from the bridge at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, looking downstream with the town on the left and the Leander Club on the right.

Founded in 1818, the Leander Club is the most prestigious and successful rowing club in the world; the Henley Royal Regatta first took place in 1839, and the first Clubhouse was built in 1897, a short walk from the finishing line.  The Regatta remains a defining event of the English social season, now comprising nearly 300 races over five days.

Henley Regatta seemed to be Tissot’s only plein-air landscape, and his brushwork at its most free and fluid.  Was it merely an experiment with the new painting style popular with his friends in Paris?  Did Tissot then abandon this type of work due to a lack of market for it in England?

On the painting’s stretcher, Tissot inscribed the painting to the woman who apparently commissioned it, Mrs. Gebhard.  By 1933, it belonged to N.C. Beechman, then Mrs. Emily Beechman by 1934.  It was acquired by Walter Hutchinson, National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, by 1949.  In 1951, it was sold at Christie’s, London for 900 guineas to the Leander Club.

Until the 1980s, scholars included Henley Regatta in catalogues of Tissot’s work, and it was last exhibited as a Tissot in London, Manchester and Paris in 1985.

In his 1986 book, Tissot, Victorian art expert Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009) commented that this painting was “so untypical of Tissot’s output that its authenticity, though well documented, has been questioned by some.”  Indeed, not only were the style and subject matter quite different from Tissot’s, but the picture lacked Tissot’s signature.

After about 1986, Henley Regatta no longer was in the possession of the Leander Club.  In 2013, the picture was sold at Christie’s, London – credited to American painter Frederick Vezin (1859 – 1933).  Born in Philadelphia, Vezin studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in Germany from 1876 until 1883.  Christie’s notes that by 1884, Vezin was exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the Grosvenor Gallery in London, and he exhibited in Liverpool and Manchester in 1885.

In 1897, Vezin’s uncle, an American actor living in London, wrote to English stage actor Sir Henry Irving that his nephew had a painting of Henley Regatta he wished to sell.  Irving and Tissot were friends, and Tissot, who owned many works by other artists such as Degas, Manet and Pissarro, must have either purchased it from Vezin or later from Irving.

As a Vezin, Henley Regatta was expected to bring £60,000 – £80,000 ($91,000 – $120,000) but was sold for £109,875 ($166,021) (Premium).

Here’s an interesting work by Vezin, an etching of a port that is quite reminiscent of Tissot’s work, such as On the Thames (1876):

Port (c. 1890–1910), by Frederick Vezin. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Tissot did paint some small oil studies of landscapes in a loose style for the background of other, finished works.

Blackfriars Bridge, London (oil on paper laid down on canvas, 13 by 16 in./33 by 40.6 cm) was sold at Christie’s, South Kensington in November, 2013 for $ 18,075 USD/£ 11,250 GBP (Premium).

The Hull of a Battle Ship, by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 16.5 by 12.25 in. (42 by 31.1 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

Disembarking from HMS Victory (also called The Hull of a Battle Ship), was offered for sale at Christie’s, South Kensington in June, 2014, but failed to find a buyer at that time.

And, of course, Tissot did paint rowers at Henley – in his distinctive way.

Sur la Tamise, Return from Henley (also known as On the Thames, c. 1874), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 57.48 by 40.04 in. (146.00 by 101.70 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)


Related posts:

James Tissot’s “A Civic Procession” (c. 1879)

James Tissot’s Weather Forecast

Girls to Float Your Boat, by James Tissot

James Tissot the Collector: His works by Degas, Manet & Pissarro

© 2015 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If 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.

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.


Tissot and his Friends Clown Around

Today is April Fool’s Day – and my birthday – so here’s something a little offbeat. 

Among the contemporary subjects painted by French artists in the second half of the nineteenth century were various incarnations of Polichinelle, a comic figure based on Pulcinella in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte – in English, Punch.  In Paris, Polichinelle featured in a marionette theater that opened around 1860 in the Tuileries Gardens.

Portrait of Harlequin Polichinelle (1860), by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Oil on pine panel. 55.2 by 36 cm. Wallace Collection, London. (Photo: Wiki.cultured.com)

Tissot’s enormously successful friend and mentor, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815 – 1891), painted at least a dozen versions of Polichinelle, including Polichinelle à la Rose (1879; oil on canvas, 17 by 11 in./43.18 by 27.94 cm; Private Collection) and Portrait of Harlequin Polichinelle (above; The Wallace Collection, London).

Harlequin Polichinelle is painted on a pine panel which once formed part of a door in the Paris apartment of Apollonie Sabatier (1822 – 1890), a famous courtesan whose salons were attended by artists and writers including Baudelaire, Flaubert and Meissonier.  In 1861, a year after Meissonier painted this picture, it was cut from the door and retouched by the artist for sale by Madame Sabatier, who was said to be the mistress of Sir Richard Wallace (1818 – 1890).  His father, Lord Hertford, who lived in Paris and owned the finest private art collection in Europe, bought the painting for the generous sum of 13,000 francs (about £520).


The Actor (Le troisième comedien, 1867-68), by James Tissot. Oil on panel, 12.80 by 7.28 in. (32.50 by 18.50 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

In 1869, James Tissot was at the top of his game.  His paintings, for the wealthy and titled collectors he attracted, depicted the leisured and refined life of the Second Empire:  The StaircaseLe goûter/Afternoon TeaAt the Rifle Range, Les patineuses (Lac de Longchamps)/Women Skating (Lake Longchamps), and Rêverie.  He executed at least one grisaille sketch, Tuileries Gardens, of a masked ball given by the Imperial court – perhaps its last.

Tissot recently had moved into the sumptuous new villa he had built at the most prestigious address in Haussmann’s renovated Paris:  the twelve-year-old avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue, now avenue Foch).  His new studio, a showcase for his renowned collection of Japanese art, quickly had become a landmark to see when touring Paris.  His Salon exhibits included Young Women Looking at Japanese Objects and A Widow.

Rather than paint Polichinelle, Tissot exhibited two of a series of six comedians at the Cercle de l’Union Artistique in 1869.  These were character studies of comedians who ran the gamut from Le premier comédien, an elegant entertainer with the Comédie-Française, to Le sixème comédien, a sad clown with a travelling circus.

Tissot’s Le deuxième comédien, a comical vision of a Renaissance scholar with a long, fur-trimmed coat and an armful of heavy books, was exhibited at the Cercle de l’Union Artistique in Paris in 1869.  It found its way to The Fine Art Society in London by December, 1993 and sold at Christie’s, London, on December 11, 2014 for $ 35,370 USD/£ 22,500 GBP (Premium).

In 2006, Le troisième comédien (above) was sold as The Actor at the Dorotheum, Vienna.  In 2008, it was sold at De Vuyst, Lokeren, in Belgium for € 8,400 EUR (Premium; $ 11,313 USD/£ 6,641 GBP).


Polichinelle (1873), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 19.88 by 12.91 in. (50.50 by 32.80 cm). Private Collection. (Wikiart.org)

Another of Tissot’s friends, Edouard Manet, painted Polichinelle.

In a cover design for a group of 1862 etchings, Manet showed the comedian peeking out from behind a curtain that reads, “Polichinelle Presents:  Etchings by Edouard Manet.”

In 1873, the year Manet painted The Railway and sold it to Paris opera baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure, he gave his painting of Polichinelle to Faure.  It was sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, in 1878, to Madame Martinet, Paris who sold it at Hôtel Drouot in 1893 to Claude Lafontaine, Paris.  It was purchased by French margarine magnate and art collector Auguste Pellerin, Paris and sold at Hôtel Drouot in 1926 to Belgian art collector and dealer Joseph Hessel, Paris.  In 1999, it was sold at Christie’s, New York to a private collector, and in November, 2014, it was sold at Sotheby’s, New York for $ 3,525,000 USD/£ 2,202,299 GBP (Premium).

Polichinelle (1874), by Edouard Manet. Gouache and watercolor over lithograph, 18.2 by 13.3 in. (46.3 by 33.7 cm). Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris. (Wikimedia.org)

In 1874, when The Railway was exhibited at the Salon and ridiculed by the critics and the public, Manet made a series of prints of another Polichinelle, above.


Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (also known as Amateur Circus, 1885), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 58 by 40 in./147.3 by 101.6 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

After enduring the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris, the Commune, self-imposed exile in London for eleven years as he built a new career but ultimately was left behind in both the French and British capitals, and the death of his lovely young mistress, Tissot returned to Paris.

There, with Manet dead and Impressionism well established as the prevailing art trend, Tissot exerted himself to re-establish his reputation with a series of fifteen large-scale paintings called “La Femme à Paris” (Women of Paris).  He painted these large works between 1883 and 1885, illustrating the fashionable parisienne in various incarnations using brighter, more modern colors than he had in his previous work.

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover (1885) is one in this series.  The setting for this picture is the Molier Circus in Paris, a “high-life circus” in which the amateur performers were members of the aristocracy.  People of beauty and fashion attended the circus and mingled with the performers during the interval.

The man on the trapeze wearing red is the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, one of the oldest titles of the French nobility; he was said to have “the biceps of Hercules.”

Under him in the ring, competing for the attention of the sophisticated, bored Parisians in the audience, Tissot painted a forlorn, comic character played by Jules Ravaut.  Tissot’s last clown, he wears the Union Jack on his costume.


Related posts:

The Missing Tissot Nudes

Was James Tissot a Plagiarist?

More “Plagiarists”: Tissot’s friends Manet, Degas, Whistler & Others


©  2015 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If 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.

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.

More “Plagiarists”: Tissot’s friends Manet, Degas, Whistler & Others

James Tissot and his friends, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot, did not work in a vacuum.  In addition, creative personalities can be strong, and the public and the critics could be merciless.  Career success or failure sometimes led to rivalries, but competitive friendships inspired all the artists in their circle.

Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, displayed prominently at the 1866 Salon jury, was a tremendous success with the public.  The 1867 Salon jury rejected Edouard Manet’s work, and all his entries also were rejected that year for the Paris International Exposition, which, like the Salon, was sponsored by the French government.  The International Exposition was a far bigger event than the Salon; it was held from April 1 to November 3 and included exhibitors from forty-one nations.  Courbet and Manet teamed up to present their work in an independent exhibition, building a large, temporary wooden pavilion across the street from one of the entrances to the International Exposition, at the Place d’Alma.  Manet showed fifty-six paintings, including his homage to Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, called Young Lady in 1866.

Woman with a Parrot (1866), by Gustave Courbet. Oil on canvas, 51 x 77 in. (129.5 x 195.6 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photo by Wikimedia.org)

Young Lady in 1866 (1866), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas; 72 7/8 x 50 5/8 in. (185.1 x 128.6 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Manet’s student, Eva Gonzalès, not quite 21, made her Salon debut in 1870 with three paintings including Enfant de troupe, her take on Manet’s The Fife Player (rejected by the 1866 Salon jury).  Her picture was understood as an homage.

The Fife Player (1866), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)


Enfant de troupe (Soldier Boy, 1870), by Eva Gonzalès. Oil on canvas, 51.2 by 38.6 in. (130 by 98 cm). Musée Gaston Rapin, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, France. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

But Manet, who struggled enormously to gain acceptance in the Paris art establishment, found himself accused of plagiarism rather than an homage in 1873.  Painter Alfred Stevens, enormously rich and successful, was overheard at the Salon in 1873 sniping at Manet for plagiarizing Le Bon Bock from Frans Hals’ The Merry Drinker (1628–1630).  Manet publicly rebuked Stevens, stopping short of a physical confrontation.  Le Bon Bock won an honorable mention.

The Merry Drinker (1628-30), by Frans Hals. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)


Le Bon Bock (The Good Pint, 1873), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 37 1/4 by 32 13/16 in. (94.6 by 83.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Manet borrowed ideas from Old Masters, but Edgar Degas accused Manet of plagiarizing from him, complaining to a friend, “That Manet. As soon as I did dancers, he did them.  He always imitated.”  However, prominent biographer Jeffrey Meyers points out that Manet painted milliners and women bathing in a tub before Degas did.  Art historian Jean Sutherland Boggs noted that Degas’ The Steeplechase (1866) was significantly influenced by Manet’s The Dead Toreador (1864).  Phoebe Pool, another art historian, wrote, “A great deal of nonsense has been written about Manet’s plagiarism…Critics do not object to Degas or the young Picasso using the works of older artists, yet they deplore this practice in Manet.”

The Dead Toreador (1864), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 29 7/8 x 60 3/8 in. (75.9 x 153.3 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey (1866), by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas, 70 7/8 x 59 13/16 in. (180 x 152 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

In September 1875, Eugene Manet found his brother at work on an extraordinary new picture.  He told his wife, Berthe Morisot, “Edouard has started a painting that is going to upset all the painters who think they own plein air and light-colored paintings.  Not a drop of black.  It seems Turner appeared to him in a dream.”  The picture, Laundry, showed a housewife happily doing the family laundry.  Later, Degas would be known for his depictions of laundresses, but they were workers paid to do other people’s drudgery.

Le Linge (Laundry, 1875), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 57 1/4 x 45 1/4 in. (145.4 x 114.9 cm). Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Laundresses Carrying Linen in Town (c. 1876-78), by Edgar Degas. Oil colors on paper mounted on canvas, 18 x 24 in. (46 x 61 cm). Private collection. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Degas’ The Absinthe Drinker (1875-76) was denounced at the 1876 Salon; Manet painted Plum Brandy the next year – but Manet also had painted The Absinthe Drinker in 1858-59.  Who copied whom?

The Absinthe Drinker (c. 1859), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 70.1 × 40.6 in. (178 × 103 cm). Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

The Absinthe Drinkers (1873), by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas, 36.2 × 27 in. (92 × 68.5 cm). Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Plum Brandy (c. 1877), by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 29 x 19 3/4 in. (73.6 x 50.2 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Meanwhile, James Abbott McNeill Whistler was afraid that Gustave Courbet would steal his idea for Wapping (1860-64).  In a letter to a friend, Whistler ecstatically described the “masterpiece” he was working on, adding, “Ssh! Don’t talk about it to Courbet!”

Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (1659), by Diego Velázquez. Oil on canvas, 50 in × 42 in., 127 × 107 cm). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (1872-74), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London. (Wikipaintings.org)

But Whistler copied Dutch Old Masters (as in his Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, [Portrait of the Artist’s Mother], 1871), Velázquez (1599 – 1660) and, as Berthe Morisot pointed out, J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851):

In a letter to her sister Edma from London, while on her honeymoon with Eugène Manet in 1875, Berthe Morisot wrote: “I visited the National Gallery, of course. I saw many Turners (Whistler, whom we liked so much, imitates him a great deal).”

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Moonlight, a Study at Millbank (1797). Oil paint on mahogany, 314 x 403 mm. Tate Gallery, London. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)


Nocturne: Blue and Gold–Southampton Water (1872), by James McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 29 15/16 in. (50.5 x 76 cm). Art Institute of Chicago. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Did Berthe Morisot ever borrow ideas from the artists in her circle?

In 1869, Manet painted Berthe Morisot with a Muff.  Almost a decade later, in 1878, James Tissot painted A Winter’s Walk.

A Winter’s Walk, by James Tissot. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

In 1879-80, Manet painted Isabelle Lemonnier with Muff.

Isabelle Leonnier with a Muff, by Edouard Manet. (Photo: wikipaintings.org)

In 1880, Morisot painted Winter (Woman with a Muff).


Winter (Woman with a Muff, 1880), by Berthe Morisot. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

These artists, all about the same age and with similar family backgrounds, were friends who lived and worked together.  Each absorbed the influence of the era and of their fellow painters to paint with a distinctive style, though their subject matter may at times have been identical.  They drew inspiration from one another but also competed with each other for critical notice, public attention – and the purses of patrons.

Related post:

Was James Tissot a Plagiarist?

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

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.

CH377762The 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.







Was James Tissot a Plagiarist?

Today is April Fool’s Day – and my birthday – so let’s have some fun.

On November 3, 1874, novelist Edmond de Goncourt (1822 – 1896) wrote in his journal, “Tissot, that plagiarist painter, has had the greatest success in England.”  In the spring of 1880 (two years after James Tissot refused to testify on his behalf during the infamous libel suit against art critic John Ruskin), James Abbott McNeill Whistler wrote from Venice to his sister-in-law in London, describing how busy he was after having produced dozens of beautiful pastels.  He believed they would create envy among other artists:  “Tissot I daresay will try his hands at once – and others too.”

Did Tissot borrow ideas and subject matter from other painters?  Absolutely.  Was he unusual in this?  Consider some evidence.


Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas, 84.5 in × 42.5 in. (215 cm × 108 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

In 1862, under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite painters in London, Whistler painted The White Girl.  Rejected at the Royal Academy of 1862 and the Paris Salon of 1863, The White Girl was a portrait of Whistler’s mistress, Joanna Hiffernan.  Combining the ambiguous mood of John Everett Millais’ paintings at the time with the “stunners” painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Whistler described the painting as “a woman in a beautiful white cambric dress, standing against a window which filters the light through a transparent white muslin curtain – but the figure receives a strong light from the right and therefore the picture, barring the red hair, is one gorgeous mass of brilliant white.”  The White Girl was accepted for the Salon des Refusés in 1863, and though it impressed a few art critics and many artists, it provoked hilarity from the 7,000 visitors who streamed through.  One critic reported, “The hangers must have thought her particularly ugly, for they have given her a sort of place of honor, before an opening through which all pass, so that nobody misses her…they always looked at each other and laughed.”

Two Sisters (1863), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 82.7 × 53.5 in. (210 × 136 cm.) Museé d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

James Tissot admired The White Girl, and influenced by it and fashion plates popular in women’s magazines of the time, he painted Two Sisters in 1863.  It was exhibited at the Salon in 1864, and a prominent critic admired the woman on the right as “a model of elegance, nobility, and simplicity,” her pose in “irreproachable taste.”

Albert Moore (1841 – 1893) met and befriended Whistler in 1865, and his work became purely aesthetic under Whistler’s influence.

Azaleas (1868), by Albert Joseph Moore. Oil on canvas, 100.2 x 197.9 cm. Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896), whose Pre-Raphaelite paintings had been notably original, also imitated artists he admired. The azaleas in Millais’ 1868 portrait of his daughters, Sisters, were copied from Albert Moore’s 1868 Azaleas.

Sisters (1868), by John Everett Millais. Oil on canvas, 42½ x 42½ in. (108 x 108 cm.). (Photo: Wikimedia.org)


Symphony in White, No. 3 (1865–1867), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas, 51.4 x 76.9 cm. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts Collection, University of Birmingham. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Millais had pronounced Whistler’s The White Girl (1862) “splendid,” and it and Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 2 (also known as The Little White Girl, 1864-65 – see below), and Symphony in White, No. 3 (1865-67) inspired the white muslin dresses in which Millais had his three daughters pose.

Hearts are Trumps (1872), by John Everett Millais. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)


The Ladies Waldegrave (1780), by Sir Joshua Reynolds. 143.00 x 168.30 cm. National Galleries Scotland. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Millais’ Hearts are Trumps (1872) was a triple-portrait challenge he undertook out of admiration for Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave (1780).

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863), by Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 208 by 264.5 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Tissot’s rebel friend, Edouard Manet, painted Le déjeuner sur l’herbe in 1863, suffering its rejection from the 1863 Paris Salon and the scandal it created at the Salon des Refusés that year.  Famously, Manet borrowed the subject from the Concert champêtre (by Titian, but attributed at the time to Giorgione).

The Pastoral Concert (c. 1509), by Titian. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

In the spring of 1865, Claude Monet, inspired by Manet, began his own Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, a massive canvas that he abandoned in 1866 due to financial pressures.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1865-66), right fragment, Claude Monet. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Tissot, too, painted a Déjeuner sur l’herbe, c. 1865-68, a depiction of a family which may have been his own, enjoying a picnic on the grounds of their château near Besançon, France.  This painting was not exhibited at the time, but Tissot later painted La Partie Carrée, using subject matter similar to Manet’s – though less controversial – which he exhibited at the Salon in 1870.  La Partie Carrée was praised both by art critics and the public.

La Partie Carrée (1870), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 47 x 57 in. (119.5 x 144.5 cm.) Private Collection. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

In the meantime, at the 1865 Salon, James Tissot exhibited Spring, which received some praise because of its similarities to John Everett Millais’ Apple Blossoms (Spring), exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1859.

Spring (Apple Blossoms), 1859, by John Everett Millais. Photo: Wikimedia.org

Spring (1865), by James Tissot. Photo: Wikipaintings.org

Tissot has been accused of copying the formula for commercial success of his wealthy, older friend Alfred Stevens (1823 – 1906):  paint beautiful women in gorgeous interiors, wearing stunning fashions, often with a distinctive touch of japonisme.

Exotic Trinket (1865), by Alfred Stevens. (Photo: Wiki, cultured.com)

La dame en rose (1866), by Alfred Stevens. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Young Women looking at Japanese Objects (1869), by James Tissot. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Young Women Looking at Japanese Articles (1869), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 27 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. (70.5 x 50.2 cm). (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

But if Tissot copied Stevens, Stevens copied Tissot as well, by depicting two young ladies rather than the single figure he usually painted.

The Japanese Mask (1877), by Alfred Stevens. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Stevens also imitated Whistler.

Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864-65), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas, 30 in × 20 in. (76 cm × 51 cm). Tate Gallery, London. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

La Parisienne japonaise (1872), Alfred Stevens. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

In 1864, Whistler had exhibited Wapping, featuring Jo Hiffernan as a dockside whore, at the Royal Academy; the Establishment had not been impressed.  Yet Wapping was purchased c. 1864/67 by Thomas DeKay Winans (1820-1878), a locomotive engineer and collector from Baltimore  who was one of Whistler’s first patrons.  Tissot exhibited The Last Evening (1873), with its similar jungle of ship’s masts, at the Royal Academy in 1873; it was snapped up even before the exhibition by wealthy London wine merchant Charles Gassiot (1826 – 1902) for £1,000.

Wapping (1860-1864), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas. 28 3/8 x 40 1/16 in. (72 x 101.8 cm.). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

The Last Evening (1873), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 28.5 x 40.5 in. (72.4 x 102.8 cm.), Guildhall Art Gallery, London. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Whistler’s most famous painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (1871), known as Whistler’s Mother, was inspired by Dutch Old Masters portraits he had seen.

Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1657), by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Oil on canvas. 125.5 x 98.5 cm. Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, Wales. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also called Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1871), by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Oil on canvas, 56.81 by 63.94 in. (144.3 by 162.5 cm.). Musée d’Orsay, Paris. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

In 2009, a small, undated Tissot oil painting called Portrait d’une dame cousant près de la cheminée (Portrait of a lady sewing near the fireplace) was sold at auction for $ 5,295 USD/ £ 3,240 GBP (Premium).  Who copied whom?

Is it “inspiration” if a painter imitates a masterpiece of a long-dead artist, and “plagiarism” if he or she copies a living artist?

One of my college English literature professors, lecturing us on the academic Honor Code and plagiarism, defined originality as “not something no one has ever thought of before, but bearing the stamp of your own mind.”

I thought of this when I saw Phil Grabsky’s film, “Vermeer and Music:  The Art of Love and Leisure, from the National Gallery, London” on October 10, 2013.  In this film, Xavier Bray, Chief Curator at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, discussed Vermeer’s Lady Seated at a Virginal (1670-72), and said that he believed Vermeer definitely saw A Woman Playing a Clavichord by Gerrit Dou (1613 –1675).

A Woman Playing a Clavichord (1665), by Gerrit Dou. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Photo: Wikipaintings.org)

Lady Seated at a Virginal (1670-72), by Johannes Vermeer. Oil on canvas, 20.3 in × 17.9 in. (51.5 cm × 45.5 cm). National Gallery, London. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Bray said that it would have been easy for Vermeer to have taken a boat down to Leiden where Dou’s 1665 picture was exhibited – prior to beginning work on his image five years later.  Bray commented that what Vermeer brought to the concept that Dou pioneered – an intimate scene of a woman interrupted while making music – was to distill the scene down to its elemental serenity.  Vermeer is not considered a plagiarist; his work bore the stamp of his own original mind.

So did Tissot’s.  His success, and his obvious enjoyment of the material rewards it brought him during his lifetime, was just really annoying to many of his contemporaries, especially Edmond de Goncourt and Whistler.

Related blog post:

Riding Coattails: Tissot’s earliest success, 1860 – 1861

©  2014 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If 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.

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.

James Tissot the Collector: His works by Degas, Manet & Pissarro

Even as James Tissot’s paintings were collected and valued during his early career in Paris and once he moved to London after the fall of the Paris Commune, he himself was a collector.  By the early to mid-1870s, as he began rebuilding his career in Victorian England, Tissot owned paintings by his struggling friends Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903), Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883) and Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917), and he helped Berthe Morisot (1841 –
1895) further her painting career.

By early 1871, Tissot had purchased a painting by Pissarro.  It has not been identified, but it was a canvas that Pissarro, who had fled to London in December 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, submitted unsuccessfully to the Royal Academy in the spring.

The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice), by Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 23 1/8 by 28 1/8 in. (58.7 by 71.4 cm.) Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, U.S.A. Photo: Wikipaintings.org

Tissot also owned Manet’s The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice), 1875, (oil on canvas, 23 1/8 by 28 1/8 in. (58.7 by 71.4 cm.), The Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont).  Tissot and Manet travelled to Venice together in the fall of 1874, and Tissot bought Manet’s Blue Venice on March 24, 1875 for 2,500 francs.  Manet badly needed the income.  Tissot hung the painting in his home in St. John’s Wood, London, and did his best to interest English dealers in Manet’s work.  Manet died on April 30, 1883; in 1884, while Tissot owned it, Blue Venice was included in a retrospective exhibition of Manet’s work, organized as a tribute, in Paris.  By August 25, 1891, Tissot sold the picture to contemporary art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831 – 1922), and in 1895, Durand-Ruel sold it as Vue de Venise (View of Venice) to Mr. and Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer, New York, for $12,000.  A prominent art collector, Mrs. Havemeyer (1855 – 1929) named the painting Blue Venice.  After the deaths of the Havemeyers, their youngest child, Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), owned Blue Venice from 1929 until her death.  She had founded The Shelburne Museum in Vermont in 1947, and Manet’s painting entered the collection there in 1960.

Tissot helped Berthe Morisot as well, but only with advice.  In 1875, Berthe wrote to her sister, Edma, during her honeymoon in England with Manet’s brother, Eugène, “we left [Cowes]… We went to see Tissot, who does very pretty things that he sells at high prices; he is living like a king.  We dined there.  He is very nice, a very good fellow, though a little vulgar.  We are on the best of terms; I paid him many compliments, and he really deserves them.”  Berthe also wrote, “Today I shall hasten to that handsome Stanley, the bishop of Westminster Abbey, to whom I have a letter of introduction from the Duchess…Tissot tells me he is a very important personage, who can open all doors for us,” and she added, “Tissot tells me that during the regatta week at Cowes we saw the most fashionable society in England.”

During the same trip, Berthe wrote to her mother, “[I was dragged out of bed] just now by a letter from Tissot – an invitation to dinner for tomorrow night.  I had to get up and ransack everything to find a clean sheet of paper in order to reply…I don’t mind seeing someone; it will be a change from the boarding-house routine.”  Later, she followed this with, “We went to see him yesterday.  He is very well installed, and is turning out excellent pictures.  He sells for as much as 300,000 francs at a time.  What do you think of his success in London?   He was very amiable, and complimented me although he has probably never seen any of my work.”

Horses in a Meadow (1871), by Edgar Degas.

Horses in a Meadow (1871), by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas, 12 1/2 by 15 3/4 in. (31.8 by 40 cm.) Chester Dale Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Photo by Lucy Paquette.

Tissot had met Degas in 1859, when they both studied art under Louis Lamothe (1822 – 1869), and the two had become close friends.  In 1867-68, Degas painted a portrait of James Tissot, then 31-32 years old.  Within a few years, Tissot owned two oil paintings by Degas: Horses in a Meadow (1871, oil on canvas, 12 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. (31.8 x 40 cm.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Woman with Binoculars (1875-76, oil on cardboard, 18 7/8 x 11 7/8 in. (48 x 32 cm.), Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister [State Art Collections, Dresden, New Masters Gallery]).

Horses in a Meadow was purchased from Degas in 1872 by Durand-Ruel, who sold it in January, 1874 for under 1,000 francs to opera baritone Jean Baptiste Faure (1830-1914), Paris.  Faure returned it to Degas, who gave it as a gift to James Tissot.  In 1890, Tissot sold Horses in a Meadow to Durand-Ruel for an unknown amount.  The picture was in the possession of Durand-Ruel until his death in 1922, then with his estate through 1925.  Mr. and Mrs. Jean D’Alayer owned it from 1951 to 1960; Mrs. D’Alayer was Paul Durand-Ruel’s granddaughter.  By 1991, New York art dealer Janet Traeger Salz had Horses in a Meadow, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. purchased it in 1995 with the Chester Dale Fund.

Woman with Binoculars (1875-76), by Edgar Degas.  oil on cardboard, 18 7/8 x 11 7/8 in. (48 x 32 cm.)  Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister (State Art Collections, Dresden, New Masters Gallery).

Woman with Binoculars (1875-76), by Edgar Degas. oil on cardboard, 18 7/8 by 11 7/8 in. (48 by 32 cm.) Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister (State Art Collections, Dresden, New Masters Gallery).

Degas gave his painting of a woman named Lyda, titled Woman with Binoculars, to Tissot as a gift right after finishing it in 1876.  It remained in Tissot’s possession until January 11, 1897, when he sold it to Durand-Ruel for 1,500 francs.  Durand-Ruel sold it to H. Paulus in November of that year for 6,000 francs.  By 1907, Dresden art historian and collector Woldemar von Seidlitz owned Woman with Binoculars; it is possible that he bought it directly from Durand-Ruel, because he often was in Paris.  When he died in January, 1922, he bequeathed the painting to his nephew, also named Woldemar von Seidlitz, from whom it was purchased in the same year for the Galerie Neue Meister.

American scholar and collector Michael Wentworth (1938-2002) wrote, “[Tissot’s] friendship with Degas came to an…unhappy end when Tissot sold two pictures Degas had once given him for reasons that, however inexplicable, can hardly have been financial and today still appear quite gratuitously insulting.” 

Christopher Wood (1941 – 2009), a former director at Christie’s, London and later an art dealer at the forefront of the revival in interest of Victorian art in the late 20th century with his gallery in Belgravia, wrote that Tissot’s “long, difficult and stormy relationship with Degas finally ended in 1895 [sic] when Tissot sold a painting which Degas had given him.”

Tissot scholar Willard E. Misfeldt (a professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University, Ohio from 1967 to 2001), suggested that a reason for the rupture between Tissot and Degas “might have been Degas’ penchant for expressing himself bluntly and openly, regardless of the fact that his statements were often uncomplimentary.”  But Misfeldt then stated, “Tissot had always been a clever entrepreneur, able to make a considerable fortune from his art where Degas had failed, and when Tissot later sought to turn a profit by selling something he had gotten from Degas the latter was understandably incensed.”  He notes that this incident took place in 1897.

Scholars consistently portray this break in a nearly forty-year friendship as Tissot’s fault, for supposedly being mercenary, with Degas being wronged.  Théodore Duret (1838 –1927; a wealthy cognac dealer and art critic who was an early supporter of the Impressionists), painter Henri Michel-Lévy (1845–1914; a wealthy publisher’s son), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) and James Tissot all sold works that they had bought from Degas or received as gifts.  “It is sad,” Degas said, “to live surrounded by scoundrels.”  Yet Degas himself capitalized on the increasing value of his work.

In 1893, Degas’ Absinthe was purchased for 21,000 francs.  Degas offended American painter Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926) two years later when he asked the Havemeyers three thousand dollars for a picture Cassatt had sold to them, for him, for one thousand dollars in 1893; the Havemeyers paid the increased price, but Degas lost Cassatt’s friendship for a long time.

In 1896, Degas’ work received the official stamp of approval when seven of his pastels were accepted by the Musée de Luxembourg.  Considering the small sum (1,500 francs) for which Tissot sold Woman with Binoculars in 1897, greed would have been an unlikely motivation.  After all, Tissot had earned a total of 1,200,000 francs during his eleven years painting in London, and he was now creating a sensation with his Bible illustrations, on which he had labored from 1886 to 1894.  He had made a third trip to Palestine in 1896 to gather further impressions, and his illustrations were exhibited in London in 1896 and in Paris, for the second time since 1894, in 1897.  One observer noted that, “women were seen to sink down on their knees as though impelled by a superior force, and literally crawl round the rooms in this position, as though in adoration.”  Tissot arranged to have the Bible pictures published in 1896-97, before the 1898 American tour, and he received a million francs for the reproduction rights.  He soon made arrangements with other publishers, in England and America.

It is possible that Tissot sold Manet’s Blue Venice in 1891 for a profit, after Manet’s 1883 death had made his work valuable.  Perhaps Tissot sold Degas’ Horses in a Meadow in 1890 after one of Degas’ early dance pictures was sold at auction for 8,000 francs that year.  But why did he sell Woman with Binoculars in 1897, especially for a mere 1,500 francs when it was worth four times that?

Alfred Dreyfus stripped of rank, by Henri Meyer (1844–1899). Le Petit Journal, January 13, 1895. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

One possible explanation for Tissot’s sale of Woman with Binoculars can be found in the fact that from 1894, an evolving political scandal polarized France.  A young French artillery officer of Jewish descent, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having offered confidential French military documents to the German Embassy in Paris.  In 1896, new evidence showed that the act was committed by a French Army major; the evidence was suppressed, and on January 10, 1898, a military court acquitted the major.  The Army, using forged documents, then accused Dreyfus of additional charges.

The French were divided into two camps:  The Dreyfusards, who were sure an innocent man had been sent to prison, and the anti-Dreyfusards, who were adamant that the general staff of France’s Army should not be undermined.

Dreyfusards, considered the intellectuals, included painters Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt; writer Émile Zola; actress Sarah Bernhardt; and author and playwright Ludovic Halévy and his family.

The anti-Dreyfusards, considered the nationalists and adherents of the Catholic revival, included Degas, Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir; sculptor Auguste Rodin; poet and essayist Paul Valéry; and Degas’ old friend Henri Rouart and his four sons.

A turning point came on January 13, 1898, when Zola’s open letter to the President of France was published on the front page of a Paris newspaper.  Zola accused the French Army of obstruction of justice and anti-Semitism in its wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus to life imprisonment.

Photographic self-portrait (probably autumn 1895), by Edgar Degas. Gelatin silver print, 4 11/16 by 6 9/16 in. Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum. Photo: Wikimedia.org

Degas ended his fifty-year friendship with his old schoolmate, playwright and novelist Ludovic Halévy (1834 – 1908), over differences regarding the Dreyfus Affair, in the first weeks of January, 1898.  Degas also broke with several others, including Pissarro, at this time.

Paul Valéry (1871 – 1945) wrote, “Degas had political ideas.  They were simple, peremptory, essentially Parisian.  At the slightest indication he inferred, he exploded, he broke off.  ‘Adieu, Monsieur,’ and he turned his back on the adversary forever…Politics in the Degas style were inevitably like himself – noble, violent, impossible.”

Français : James Tissot

James Tissot

By November, 1895, Degas was openly anti-Semitic.   James Tissot had numerous Jewish friends, including Sir Julius Benedict (1804 – 1885), a German-born composer and conductor whom Tissot portrayed as the pianist in his 1875 painting, Hush! (The Concert); Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1821 – 1879), an influential London Society hostess and friend whose portrait Tissot painted; Algernon Moses Marsden (1847 – 1920), whose portrait he painted in 1877 and who, for a time, acted as his art dealer; Camille Pissarro; and, by one account, English Pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon (1840 –1905).

Perhaps Degas initiated the rift with Tissot, who then sold Woman with Binoculars, a gift Degas had given him when they were dear friends.

Interestingly, Degas kept his 1867-68 portrait of Tissot until his death in 1917.  It is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in Gallery 810.

Portrait of James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836–1902), c. 1867-68, by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas, 59 5/8 by 44 in. (151.4 by 111.8 cm.) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1939. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Related posts:

Tissot and Manet attempt to help their friend Degas, 1868

Who was Algernon Moses Marsden?

I am grateful to the following individuals for sharing information on the provenance of two of the paintings discussed in this article:

Dr. Gilbert Lupfer and Juliane Au, Intern

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Leslie Wright, Public Relations and Marketing Manager

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

© 2013 by Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

The articles published on this blog are copyrighted by Lucy Paquette.  An article or any portion of it may not be reproduced in any medium or transmitted in any form, electronic or mechanical, without the author’s permission.  You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement to the author. 


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.

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.