Tag Archives: Empress Eugénie

James Tissot in Mourning

An aspect of the fashionable clothing of his day that James Tissot did not fail to capture in paint was mourning.  Several of his pictures show mourning attire of the 1860s to the 1880s in great detail.


The five daughters of Queen Victoria in mourning for Prince Albert. March 1862. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

Wearing appropriate mourning attire was one of the many rituals surrounding death in Tissot’s era, particularly in Great Britain when Queen Victoria wore mourning for forty years following the death of her consort, Prince Albert.

Numerous etiquette manuals and popular journals laid out the strict and complicated etiquette of dress that demonstrated respect for the deceased, earned sympathy for the grieving, and often displayed wealth and social status.  Different rules applied depending on the bereaved person’s relationship to the deceased person, from grandparents to cousins to servants.

The most stringent, and the most codified, rules governed the attire of widows.  As sexually experienced women who were now single, it was crucial that they observe all proprieties. (1)


Advertising for Victorian mourning garb

Large wardrobes were necessary to outfit women for bereavements of up to two and a half years, and this was a lucrative niche for those in the trade, such as Jay’s of Regent Street, opened in 1841 as an establishment for mourning. (2)  Peter Robertson founded a mourning warehouse in Regent Street in 1865, maintaining a wide inventory, executing special orders in a day, and even traveling to the countryside for fittings at no extra charge.  In 1876, the firm introduced a style catalog from which customers could order ready-to-wear garments to be sent by mail-order. (3)

A widow’s first, or deepest mourning, was worn for a year and a day.  Custom dictated every detail of clothing, and types of fabric to be worn, during this and the following period.  For example, the bonnet for first mourning must have a veil hanging at the back, and a shorter veil worn over the face, and cambric handkerchiefs must have black borders.  Second mourning was worn for twelve months, with complex instructions as to the gradual introduction of additional freedoms, such as wearing hats again.  At the end of the second year, mourning could be put off entirely, but it was considered in better taste to wear half mourning for at least six months longer. (4)


A Widow (Une veuve, 1868), by James Tissot.  Oil on canvas, 27 by 19.5 in. (68.5 by 49.5 cm).  (Photo:  Wikimedia.org)

In 1869, James Tissot exhibited A Widow (Une veuve, 1868) at the Salon in Paris.  The low-cut, square neckline of this stylish young widow’s full-skirted black gown is filled in with a blouse of filmy black silk, trimmed at the round neckline, center front, shoulders and wrists with frothy ruffles in the same fabric.  The set-in sleeves and long and full.  The trained skirt’s high waist is tied with a wide sash and accented with a black rosette.  The pleated flounce at the hem reveals her white, lace-edged petticoat, a black silk stocking, and a squared-toed high heel with its silk bow.  Her brown hair is parted in the center, and braids behind each ear crown her head.  Wearing black lace mitts as she dreamily pursues her sewing – while showing that glimpse of ankle so tantalizing to Victorian men – it is likely she can be induced to leave off her last months of mourning.  The elderly chaperone is in mourning, while the little girl is not.


The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst (c. 1874), by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 50 by 60 in. (106.6 by 152.4 cm). Musee Nationale du Chateau de Compiegne, France. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)


Empress Eugénie in mourning for her son, 1880.  (Photo:  Wikipedia.org)

Tissot’s double portrait The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst (c. 1874) depicts the exiled French Empress (1826 – 1920), living outside London after the collapse of the Second Empire, and her son, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who would be killed in 1879, at age 23, in the Zulu War.  The only child of Napoléon III of France, he was accepted to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1872 and is pictured in the uniform of a Woolwich cadet.  The Empress is in her first year of mourning following the death of her husband in January, 1873.

Her black gown consists of a high-necked, button-up bodice with long, tight-fitting, set-in sleeves over a white blouse, and a straight, trained skirt with a black draped tablier (apron) overskirt.  Her round black cap, so like her son’s, is trimmed in white, and a long black veil trails from its back.



The Widower (Le veuf, 1876), by James Tissot.  Oil on canvas, 116.3 by 75.5 cm.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.  (Photo:  Wikimedia.org)

Tissot exhibited The Widower (1876) at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877.  He portrays this widower with a lumpy, crushed hat of soft felt, wearing a sack coat.  The bereaved man appears so much sadder than if he were dressed in a dapper frock coat and top hat.


Orphans (L’Orpheline, 1879), by James Tissot.  Oil on canvas, 85 by 43 in. (216 by 109.2 cm).  Private Collection.  (Photo:  Wikimedia.org)

Orphans (L’Orpheline, 1879), features Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882) and was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879.  Mrs. Newton’s form-fitting mourning gown was the very latest style – the new cuirasse bodice and Princess line seaming created by couturier Charles Worth.  Fitted over a white blouse with lace showing at the wrists under the long, slim, set-in sleeves, it is a different style of gown altogether from previous Victorian dresses.  It has no waist seam:  the seams run continuously from the shoulder to the hem, and the shape is created by sewing long, fitted fabric pieces together.  Note the center front of her gown, a vertical section of pleated bands.  The Princess seam created a tall, slender look.  It depended on the curaisse bodice, a tightly-laced, boned corset that encased the torso, waist, hips and thighs.  The result was a dramatic narrowing of the silhouette of women’s fashion in the late 1870s.

Mrs. Newton wears black lace mitts, a peaked bonnet embellished with black feathers, and a heavy black scarf around her neck.  She wears a corsage of lavender and white chrysanthemums, but no jewelry except for the wedding band visible on the third finger of her left hand.  It is likely that she is being represented as a widow in her secondary mourning, as lavender was considered a color appropriate for that stage.

The little girl [modeled by Kathleen Newton’s niece, Lilian Hervey (1875 – 1952)] also wears mourning – though, oddly, she seems dressed for different weather entirely in her short-sleeved, button-down black dress over a white chemise.  She has bare arms and legs and wears white socks with black strapped shoes.


The Rivals (I rivali, 1878-79), by James Tissot.  Private Collection.

Tissot’s The Rivals (I rivali, 1878–79) is set in the conservatory of his home at 17 (now 44), Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, London.  It casts his mistress, young divorcée Kathleen Newton, as a young widow, crocheting while taking tea with two suitors, one middle-aged and one old.  Mrs. Newton is wearing the same black gown she did in L’Orpheline (Orphans, 1879).  In this picture, Tissot paints her so close to the end of her mourning that she is entertaining men – and so nonchalant about it that she slouches in her fur-lined, wicker armchair while focusing on her needlework!

Tissot exhibited this painting at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879.  Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882, at age 28, at Tissot’s house with her sister, Polly Hervey, at her side (according to the death register).  Tissot draped the coffin in purple velvet and prayed beside it for hours.  Immediately after the funeral on November 14, at the Church of Our Lady in Lisson Grove, St. John’s Wood, Tissot abandoned his home and returned to Paris.


Sans dot (Without Dowry, 1883-85), by James Tissot.  Oil on canvas, 58 by 41 in. (147.32 by 104.14 cm).  Private Collection.  (Photo:  Wikimedia.org)

Tissot exerted himself to re-establish his reputation in Paris, which he had fled following the bloody aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, 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.


Women’s mourning bonnet in hard crape, c. 1880.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  (Photo:  Wikipedia.org)

The elegant young widow in Sans dot (Without Dowry, 1883-85) takes the air in the gardens in Versailles wearing a buttoned-up, high-necked black bodice with three-quarter, eighteenth-century-style Sabot sleeves that fit tightly before flaring into a deep ruffle below the elbow.  Black gloves cover her hands and forearms.  She wears a black draped tablier (apron) overskirt over a straight, pleated underskirt in sable-colored silk.  Her high-crowned, black straw bonnet features a large black bow over her fringe, echoed by a soft bow tied neatly under her chin.  Because her bonnet is so elaborately beribboned and has no veil, we know she is past her first year of mourning (when the appropriate bonnet was simple, like the one shown at the right) and is now in secondary mourning.  The widow maintains a wistful expression and a demure posture before her work basket and a book while her elderly chaperone, who is wearing mourning and a bonnet with a veil, is absorbed in the newspaper.  She appears completely aware of her charms – and of the fact that her lack of a dowry seems unlikely to affect her ability to attract another husband.

Related posts:

James Tissot’s Fashion Plates (1864-1878): A Guest Post for Mimi Matthews by Lucy Paquette

James Tissot’s garden idyll & Kathleen Newton’s death

A visit to James Tissot’s house & Kathleen Newton’s grave

Tissot’s La Femme à Paris series


(1)  Sidell, Misty White, “A time when the wrong outfit could lead to disgrace and scandal: New Costume Institute exhibit to explore the strict world of Victorian mourning fashions,” Daily Mail, (July 1, 2014); http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2677118/A-time-wrong-outfit-lead-disgrace-scandal-New-Costume-Institute-exhibit-explore-strict-world-Victorian-mourning-fashions.html (Accessed: 1/19/2017)

(2)  “Victorian Mourning Etiquette,” http://www.tchevalier.com/fallingangels/bckgrnd/mourning/ (Accessed: 1/19/2017)

(3)  Hansen, Viveka, “Jet & Dressed in Black – the Victorian Period (B 20),” TEXTILIS (October 12, 2016); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: 1/19/2017)

(4)  Robinson, Nugent. Collier’s Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information.  New York:  F. Collier, 1882.  (Accessed: 1/19/2017)

© Copyright Lucy Paquette 2017.  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.


“Napoleon is an idiot”: Courbet & the Fall of the Second Empire, 1870

Napoleon III (wikimedia.org)

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 of more than 500,000 men with 160,000 reserves.  France’s troops, disorganized and short of everything from maps to ammunition, numbered less than 300,000.  “We do not have sufficient troops.  I regard us already as lost,” the Emperor wrote to the Empress Eugénie, who was Regent in his absence.  Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, unlike the Empress Eugénie, did not want France to go to war, and she had told Napoleon III – her cousin – that he was unfit to take personal command of the French army.

English: Gustave Courbet Français : Gustave Co...

Gustave Courbet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gustave Courbet, at 51 was fresh from the glory of having refused the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France, from the minister of Beaux-Arts in the cabinet of Napoleon III’s reform-minded premier, Émile Ollivier, in late June.  On July 15, 1870, Courbet wrote his loving and loyal mother, father and sisters in Flagey, a village in eastern France:  “War is declared.  Everybody is leaving Paris.”  By the end of his letter, he added, “In everyone’s opinion I am the greatest man in France.  My sensation lasted three weeks in Paris, in the provinces, and abroad.  Now it is over.  The war has taken my place.”  On August 9, he wrote them, “We are passing through an indescribable crisis.  I do not know how we shall come out of it.  Monsieur Napoleon has declared a dynastic war for his own benefit and has made himself generalissimo of the armies, and he is an idiot who is proceeding without a plan of campaign in his ridiculous and criminal pride.”  He ended, “I cannot return home now.  My presence is needed here, and besides I have a good deal of property to protect in Paris.  Don’t worry about me.  I have nothing to fear from anyone.”

Napoleon, 62, surrendered himself — and the French troops accompanying him — to the Prussians on September 2, and the Second Empire collapsed.

Napoleon III Surrenders his Sword, 1870 (wikimedia.org)

Princesse Mathilde (1862), by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Photo by Lucy Paquette

Princess Mathilde (1862), by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Lucy Paquette

On the night of September 3, 1870, the fifty-year-old Princess Mathilde Bonaparte fled Paris at the insistence of her friends, first heading for Puys, near Dieppe on the English Channel, where her friend, the forty-six-year-old novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas the younger,  offered his home to her.  France was proclaimed a Republic on September 4; a provisional French government, the Third Republic, was created, and it deposed Napoleon III on September 4.  In the French press, it was rumored that Princess Mathilde had stolen up to 51 million francs in her luggage, and that she had been arrested; it was further alleged that she had stolen diamonds and important paintings from the Louvre.  Meanwhile, Mathilde (with two servants) secretly made her way across the French border, to Belgium.  By September 12, she had stopped in the first town to she came to — Mons, an hour from Brussels.  By October, she wrote, “I am horribly sad and my heart is broken.  I remain here, not knowing where to go and not wishing to leave; besides, I really do not care.”  She added, “I am sadder than ever; there is nothing left but our complete ruin, and I have not even the hope of better days.”  [Mathilde did return to Paris, in mid-June of 1871, and she lived there until her death in 1904 at the age of 83.]

Her former lover, the faithless Comte de Nieuwerkerke, ordered the most valuable paintings removed from Paris on August 30.  Convoys from the Louvre left for Brest each day from September 1 to 4.  Nieuwerkerke was dismissed by the new government from his post as Superintendent of the Imperial Museums on September 5.  It was rumored that he was in prison until he could account for important paintings “which he may have lent to friends.”  In reality, Nieuwerkerke – who had been warned of his imminent arrest – fled Paris in September dressed as a valet.  He went into exile in England, at Eastbourne.  [In April, 1871, Nieuwerkerke sold his home to an American, William Henry Riggs (1837 – 1924) for 188,500 francs and his collection of armor and weapons for 400,000 francs to Sir Richard Wallace (1818 – 1890); it now is part of the Wallace Collection in London.  Nieuwerkerke then went to Northern Italy and retired beside a picturesque lake in a luxurious villa at Gattajola, near Lucca, which he bought in May, 1872.  He died there in 1892.]

Empress Eugénie, c. 1869-70 (wikimedia.org)

The forty-four-year-old Empress Eugénie had, with the help of her American dentist, Dr. Thomas Wiltberger Evans*, escaped incognito to London with a forged passport (and her lady-in-waiting) on September 5.  She settled at Camden Place, a secluded estate at Chislehurst, just southeast of London, and was reunited with her only child, the fourteen-year-old Louis Napoleon, Prince Impérial of France.  [After six months as a prisoner in Germany, Napoleon III spent the last few years of his life in exile in England with Eugénie and the Prince Imperial Napoleon, who was killed in the Zulu War in South Africa in 1879.  Napoleon III died of kidney disease in 1873; Eugénie, a Spanish countess when she married,  lived to the age of 94 and died among her relatives in Spain in 1920.]

In the meantime, while ordinary people were shocked and alarmed, mobs chanting “Vive la République!” and belting out the “Marseillaise” scrawled “Property of the People” across the entrance to the vacated Tuileries Palace and tossed statues of the emperor into the River Seine.  They changed street and shop names to obliterate all signs of the despised, now-fallen empire.  The avenue de l’Empereur became, with some paint, the avenue Victor Noir.  French journalist Victor Noir (1848 – 1870)  became a republican hero after being shot by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, a cousin of Napoleon III, in a duel in January.  At some point after the Siege of Strasbourg on September 28, 1870 – when General Jean Jacques Alexis Uhrich (1802 – 1886) tried in vain to defend the fortress considered one of the strongest in France — Tissot’s elegant avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue), the boulevard leading to the recreational grounds at the Bois de Boulogne, was renamed avenue Uhrich.

Although Tissot was too patriotic – or optimistic – to realize it for another eight months, his charmed life in Paris was over forever.

The Empress Eugénie’s rescuer, the influential American dentist, Thomas Wiltberger Evans (1823 –1897) was a neighbor of Tissot’s.  Dr. Evans’ elegant villa, “Bella Rosa,” stood at no. 43, at the intersection of avenue Malakoff; Dr. Evans also owned lot no. 41, across the street.

© 2013 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

How much do you know about the Impressionists & War?  Take my quiz on goodreads.com!

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.

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

CH377762NOTE:  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.

For Tissot’s friend Édouard Manet, 1869 started badly with the government forbidding the exhibition of his new painting, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian.

Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (1832 – 1867), the idealistic younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, had been installed in power in Mexico in 1864 by French Emperor Napoleon III as a means of recovering huge debts and of interfering with the United States during its Civil War. Three years later, Napoleon withdrew French military support for the puppet emperor, and Maximilian and two of his generals were captured by Mexican loyalists. They were executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867 under the orders of the Mexican president who had been displaced when the French took control.  When the news reached Paris, Manet, an ardent republican, went to work, first using an eight and a half foot wide canvas, and then restarting on another over nine feet wide before ending with a new one ten feet wide, to portray the outrage that shocked the French. He painted the Mexican soldiers in French uniforms and depicted the executioner in a goatee resembling the one worn by Napoleon III.  Manet also prepared a lithographic version of the scene which could be reproduced and sold to the public as prints. But in January, the government denied permission for the lithograph to be printed, and his incendiary painting was not allowed at the 1869 Salon.

Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

Execution of Emperor Maximilian, by Manet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Princesse Mathilde (1862), by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Photo by Lucy Paquette

Princesse Mathilde (1862), by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Lucy Paquette

In August, 1869, the twenty-three year liaison between the suave, pompous Comte de Nieuwerkerke and Napoleon III’s influential cousin, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, ended.  She had been as devoted to him as a wife, and she had secured numerous advantages for him.  It was due to Mathilde that Nieuwerkerke had been appointed by Napoleon III as director-general of museums in charge of the Louvre and the Luxembourg as well as the annual Salon.  Nieuwerkerke had been the most powerful figure in the French art world since 1849, and he dominated the Princess in her own home.  But while Mathilde always believed Nieuwerkerke would marry her someday (perhaps when his wife – and her husband –both died), it was well-known in Paris that he had never been faithful to her.  When he abruptly announced to her that he had proposed to a young girl, she turned him out of her house, later telling a friend, “And he had to go on foot across the fields, because I didn’t order a carriage for him.”

Emilien de Nieuwerkerke.

Emilien de Nieuwerkerke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie, who always had disapproved of Princess Mathilde’s infatuation with Nieuwerkerke, had their own problems.  Napoleon’s health declined and, at the age of 61, he had to manage both painful rheumatism and a bladder stone.  By early September 1869, he was well enough to ride in a carriage in the Bois de Boulogne and to attend the theater.  But while the Empress Eugénie, now 43, attended what would turn out to be the Imperial court’s last masked ball dressed as Marie Antoinette, the Legislative Assembly elections in May brought twenty-five Republicans, and nearly half of the voters selected candidates who opposed the Emperor’s regime.  There were socialist and working-class uprisings in Paris, repeated riots at night in June, and workers’ strikes.  During one, government troops fired on striking coal miners and killed fourteen people, including a baby girl.  Foreigners fled the country.  “The Second Empire, a British diplomat wrote, “is hurling itself […] towards the abyss.”

Gustave Courbet would contribute mightily to that end.  From October 1868 to May or June 1869, Courbet was in Ornans, his home town in the east of France.  He was not painting; he was tinkering with his invention of a light carriage with only one wheel (his father had invented a cart with five wheels).  One friend observed to another, “His volcanic imagination is stimulated by the new invention to such a degree that he will forget to get drunk until the work is completed.”

In 1869, Courbet exhibited three paintings at the Salon which he had already shown at his pavilion near the 1867 Paris Exposition:  Siesta, the Hallali and Mountains of the Doubs.  The young painter Frédéric Bazille (1841 – 1870) wrote that Courbet’s paintings were like masterpieces among universal dullness.  But financial misfortunes seemed to dog Courbet; an art dealer who owed Courbet 30,000 francs went bankrupt.  “I really have no luck,” Courbet wrote.

The Cliffs at Etretat (1869), by Gustave Courbet. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

In mid-August, Courbet was at Etretat, in northern France, sea-bathing and painting.

Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893), a young scholar who was to become a prominent writer of short fiction, recalls seeing Courbet on a visit to Etretat in September, 1869:

In a vast, empty room, a fat, dirty, greasy man was slapping dollops of white paint on a blank canvas with a kitchen knife.  From time to time he would press his face against the window and look out at the storm.  The breakers came so close that they seemed to batter the house and completely envelop it in foam and the roar of the sea.  The salty water hammered the panes like hail and ran down the walls.  This work became ‘The Wave’ and caused a public sensation.

Courbet completed nine seascapes at this time (including Cliffs at Etretat and Stormy Sea) and sold five of them for a total of 4,500 francs.  As he began a large new one to exhibit at the 1870 Salon, he learned that his work had been awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Brussels (by a unanimous vote) and that he had received another official decoration at an exhibition in Munich.  He traveled there in September to accept, and in addition to the fêtes in his honor, there was a beer-drinking contest.  Courbet won.  He was asked to give a technical demonstration to the edification and delight of the members of the Bavarian Academy, and before he left Munich, he dashed off a souvenir painting for his admirers, which he signed, “COURBET, without ideals and without religion.”

He would live up to that slogan within the next two years.

© 2013 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

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.

Paris c. 1865: The Giddy Life of Second Empire France


Napoleon III and Haussmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1865, Napoleon III’s majestic and “revolution-proof” vision to modernize Paris had been methodically implemented for twelve years by his préfet, Baron Haussmann.  James Tissot had lived and painted in the city during nine years of this transformation.  The economy was booming as overcrowded medieval buildings were demolished, hills were leveled, bridges were constructed, and narrow, tangled streets were replaced with straight, broad tree-lined avenues extending to the western suburbs where fields of cabbages once grew.  When the Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836, five streets radiated from it; Haussmann added seven more and a traffic round-about, and it became known as Place de l’Etoile (Place of the Star).  In an effort to create a large, clean and progressive metropolis, rows of neo-classical apartment buildings were constructed with shops at street level, as well as a breathtakingly beautiful new opera house.

Paris Opéra Garnier Grand escalier

Paris Opéra Garnier Grand escalier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To serve a population that had almost doubled in the past fifteen years and was nearing two million, aqueducts transported fresh spring water to city reservoirs, and an extensive sewer system was installed.  Telegraph lines allowed modern and efficient communication.  Railways now branched out from the city, reaching into the outlying regions and making it an industrial center.  Trains also encircled the city, so that the main railroad stations were conveniently connected within the old fortified wall around the capital.  The once-squalid city had become an international model of urban planning, with new public squares and parks.  The densely wooded Bois de Boulogne was designed on the western edge of the city as an imperial playground, with two lakes, a zoo, an aviary, and an aquarium plus a thoroughbred race course, Longchamp.

The splendid new streets now were a cacophony of horses, carriages, and omnibuses.  Parisians flaunted their wealth, and conspicuous consumption was the order of the day.  Grand department stores and hotels sprang up, and cafés spilled thousands of tables and chairs into the wide sidewalks, packed with people of all classes taking in the spectacle between two and six in the afternoon.  Shops stayed open into the night, drawing crowds from nine o’clock to midnight and beyond, and to the east, there were theaters, music halls and cabarets.  With 15,000 gaslights glittering on the streets, Paris became “The City of Light.”

Valentine Haussmann and her father, Georges Haussmann (fr.wikipedia.org)

While the Emperor carried on affairs with women including Valentine Haussmann, the 21-year-old daughter of the man renovating Paris, the Empress Eugénie and her friends would drive themselves down the elegant avenue de l’Impératrice – Empress Avenue (now the avenue Foch) – heading for the Bois de Boulogne in an open carriage to boat on the lakes, sip wine at the Swiss Chalet there, and enjoy picnics and galas.  Like London’s Hyde Park, it was the place to see and be seen, and to show off fine horses.  In the winter, there was ice skating (introduced in 1862 by the Empress Eugénie), and there were always balls at the Tuileries; in 1865, it was the fashion to drive to masked balls at 3 a.m.  The Empress patronized Charles Worth, the first dressmaker to offer his own designs at luxury fashion shows and to label his creations.  Eugénie’s tastes set style; her extravagant white tulle ballgown strewn with diamonds led to imitations sewn with beetles, butterflies and bells.

The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting by Franz Winterhalter (wikimedia.org)

Princess Mathilde Bonaparte

Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The power behind the throne – in cultural matters, at least — was not Eugénie or even a mistress, but Princess Mathilde.  A first cousin of Napoleon III, she was engaged to him briefly at age 16, though they were mismatched intellectually.  When the man she did marry turned out to be cruel and abusive, she fled him with her Parisian lover, the Comte de Nieuwerkerke.  She took her family’s jewels, using them as collateral for a bank loan of 500,000 francs that funded her cousin’s rise to power.  Even after Napoleon III’s marriage to Eugénie, a Spanish countess educated in Paris, Mathilde wielded enormous power.  At the Paris townhouse Napoleon III put at her disposal, she regularly received scientists, writers, painters, and musicians, and she obtained advantages for them.  She herself was an artist, winning a medal for her painting at the 1865 Salon, and it was at her request that the Comte de Nieuwerkerke (a failed sculptor) was promoted to Superintendent of Fine Arts in 1863, at an annual salary of 60,000 francs.  It is said that Princess Mathilde decided who was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, or which painter won a medal.

Portrait of Count Alfred Émilien de Nieuwerkerke (1811 – 1892) c. 1856-57, by Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (Photo: wikimedia.org)

What would Tissot, a man who had depicted himself in a self-portrait a few years earlier as a hooded monk, have been doing amid the heady delights of life in the imperial capital?  In an 1865 photograph, he’s a dapper dresser.  Though still living in the dilapidated Latin Quarter at 29, he was enjoying increasing professional success and was described as a boulevardier – a man-about-town.  In addition to painters, his friends included poets (Camille-André Lemoyne, 1822 – 1907, who dedicated a published poem to Tissot in 1860), writers (Alphonse Daudet, 1840 – 1897, who lived in the rented room below his), and composers (Emmanuel Chabrier, 1841 – 1894, whose portrait Tissot drew in 1861).

He was 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, perhaps, Tissot – a traditionalist at heart — had more closely allied himself with some of the most prominent figures of the Second Empire.

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.

© Copyright Lucy Paquette 2012.  All rights reserved.