Tag Archives: George Dunlop Leslie

James Tissot’s Modern Paintings in Victorian England

French painter James Tissot emigrated from Paris to London in mid-1871, in the chaos after the Franco-Prussian War and bloody Commune, and became successful in Victorian England within a few years.   In 1873, he sold Too Early through London art dealer William Agnew (1825 – 1910) – who specialized in “high-class modern paintings” – for 1,050 guineas.  Agnew purchased The Ball on Shipboard from Tissot the following year, and in 1875, purchased Hush! directly from the wall of the Royal Academy by for 1,200 guineas.

What made Tissot’s paintings “modern”?  How were his pictures of everyday life different from those painted by his English contemporaries?

James Tissot (1836 – 1902), an astute businessman keenly aware of buyers’ preferences, painted many subjects that his English contemporaries did.  But while Victorian painters like George Dunlop Leslie (1835 – 1921) depicted genteel women behaving well – docile and proper – Tissot was a bit daring.  Like others, he also painted a woman (his mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton) reading – but his model is a bit of a rebel, wearing eye makeup and a gown with a revealing neckline, improper as a day dress.  In Her Favorite Pastime, Leslie presents us with a straightforward rendering of a pretty and sedate woman focused on her book.  In Tissot’s Quiet, Kathleen is sitting – quite indecorously – with her legs crossed, somewhat slumped forward, against a racy leopard skin.  Yet, the image is of a loving mother, the exhausted girl leaning lovingly against her, and the resting dog underscores the domesticity of the scene while the expansive green lawn behind them indicates the wealth of the household.

        File:James Tissot - Quiet.jpg

Left:  Her Favorite Pastime (1864), by George Dunlop Leslie

Right:  Quiet (c. 1881), by James Tissot

While his English contemporaries depicted the ideal of contented domestic life, with family members often in stiffly posed compositions, Tissot’s showed a casual reality.  George Goodwin Kilburne’s The Piano Lesson relies on the single child obediently taking instruction and a symmetrical composition to show us the orderliness of this family’s conduct.  In Kathleen Newton at the Piano, Tissot gives us a peek behind the curtain dividing the formal front parlor from the informal room behind, where Kathleen, her two children, and an older niece huddle affectionately near her as she plays for them.

                Kathleen Newton at the Piano, c.1881 - James Tissot

Left:  The Piano Lesson (1871), by George Goodwin Kilburne

Right:  Kathleen Newton at the Piano (c. 1881), by James Tissot

In A Mother’s Darling, Kilburne depicts the girl as a little woman; in The Garden Bench, Kathleen Newton’s son, daughter and niece are children behaving spontaneously.

      File:Tissot Garden Bench.jpg

Left:  A Mother’s Darling (1869), by George Goodwin Kilburne

Right:  The Garden Bench (c. 1882), by James Tissot

The four pictures of afternoon tea below, two by Leslie and two by Tissot, illustrate Leslie’s literal manner and Tissot’s rather racy take on this British ritual.  While Leslie’s lone ladies are being served by a housemaid and dreaming wistfully into the distance, Tissot’s social beings are using the occasion to flirt and sum up available suitors.


Left:  Afternoon Tea (1865), by George Dunlop Leslie

Right:  In the Conservatory (Rivals, c. 1875), by James Tissot


Left:  Five o’Clock Tea (c. 1874), by George Dunlop Leslie

Right:  The Rivals (I rivali, 1878–79), by James Tissot

Below, in Alice in Wonderland, Leslie depicts an iconic family moment as a mother stimulates the imagination of her daughter by reading aloud to her on a stiff sofa, attired in a proper day dress with a bustle.  The girl, in her tidy dress, apron and black stockings, has set aside her doll to listen, her dreamy face against her mother’s bosom showing the effect of the story on her imagination.  In Reading a Story, Tissot depicts a similar scene in a natural setting, with a mother (Kathleen Newton) informally flipping pages on a comfortably-padded garden bench with a little girl who, though engaged, looks a bit fidgety as well as windblown from outdoor play.


Left:  Alice in Wonderland (1879), by George Dunlop Leslie

Right:  Reading a Story (c. 1878-79), by James Tissot

Tissot did not portray Victorian poverty, or even attempt to document the reality of the era’s social ills.  In the images below, Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833 – 1898) and George Adolphus Storey (1834 – 1919) depict destitute orphans in an attempt at realism colored with sentimentality.  Tissot’s upper-class orphan, accompanied by the expensively-dressed woman modeled by Kathleen Newton, is somber, but sentimental in an essentially decorative way.

File:Philip Hermogenes Calderon - The Orphans.jpg         File:James Tissot - Orphan.jpg

Above left:  Orphans (1870), by Philip Hermogenes Calderon

Above right:  L’Orpheline (1879), by James Tissot

Right:  Orphans (1879), by George Adolphus Storey



The pictures below perfectly capture the difference between Tissot’s “modern” paintings and those of his Victorian peers.

         The Letter, c.1876 - c.1878 - James Tissot

Above left:  Considering a Reply (c. 1860), by George Dunlop Leslie

Above right:  The Letter (c. 1878), by James Tissot

Right:  Reading the Letter (1885), by Thomas Benjamin Kennington

While Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856 – 1916) depicts a woman reading a letter, and George Dunlop Leslie shows us a woman who has read a letter and now must consider how to reply, Tissot gives us a woman who, having read her letter, rips it to shreds that billow away in the wind.  Kennington’s and Dunlop’s compositions are simple, but Tissot provides an air of tantalizing mystery around his subject:  the woman stalks toward us through an elegant, landscaped garden while the remnants of her luncheon, or tea, are being cleared by a footman.  Who is she?  We are drawn into her drama, and are all the more curious about the contents of her letter.
File:James Tissot - Hide and Seek.jpg

James Tissot, unlike his Victorian peers, did not portray women gathering flowers or gazing at themselves in a mirror, or brides, or women sewing or dancing.

But for a cozy scene of a Victorian lady  minding her children, he gave us Hide and Seek (left, c. 1877), in which Kathleen Newton lounges in an upholstered armchair, absorbed in a newspaper in a corner of his opulent studio while her children and those of her sister scamper about.

While Tissot used the brighter palette of the Impressionists in France, his perspective can be ascribed to his nationality only partially:  his subject matter and his innate humor were unique.

©  2018 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. 

Related posts:

The Stars of Victorian Painting: Auction Prices

Victorians on the Move, by James Tissot

The James Tissot Tour of Victorian England

French Painter James Tissot’s British Clients: Rising Industrialists, by Lucy Paquette for The Victorian Web

James Tissot and the Pre-Raphaelites

James Tissot’s Model and Muse, Kathleen Newton


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/B009P5RYV


Welcome to the Royal Academy Exhibition: London, 1870 (Part I)

Charles Dickens delivered the speech at the dinner in honor of the 102nd Royal Academy Exhibition in 1870, held for the first time in its new galleries in Burlington House, Piccadilly.  Painter George Dunlop Leslie said it was by far the most eloquent and impressive speech he had ever heard at an Academy banquet:  “It was the last public speech that he delivered, and possibly the finest.”  It was followed by toasts to “The Sovereign,” “The Army and Navy,” and the health of Her Majesty’s Ministers, the officials’ required responses despite their knowledge of art or the patience of their audience, and finally the band of the Royal Artillery in the lecture-room.

Among the paintings crammed from floor to ceiling throughout the galleries were five pictures by the venerable Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A. (1802 – 1873), who had sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square even as he was slipping into insanityOne of his paintings, Queen and Prince Albert in the Highlands, already had been shown – unfinished – in 1854 by Royal Command, and Landseer had been repainting it over the past sixteen years, with disastrous results.

George Frederic Watts, R.A. (1817 – 1904) exhibited Daphne, standing naked in the laurels, along with Fata Morgana and a portrait of painter Edward BurneJones (1833 –1898).

English: George Frederick Watts - Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana, by George Frederick Watts (Photo: Wikipedia)


Edward Burne-Jones, by George Frederic Watts. Courtesy http://www.georgefredericwatts.org

John Callcott Horsley, R.A. (1817 –1903) – who had designed the first Christmas card in 1843 – showed The Banker’s Private Room – Negotiating a Loan.  The Saturday Review wrote, “This quiet unobtrusive study of texture, light, shade and color can scarcely be praised too highly.”

The Banker's Private Room, by  John Callcott Horsley, R.A. (1817 –1903)

The Banker’s Private Room, by John Callcott Horsley, R.A. (1817 –1903).  (Photo:  Wikigallery.org)

Frederick Leighton, R.A. (1830 – 1896) had only a small picture, A Nile Woman, because an illness had prevented him from completing his large painting called Hercules Struggling with Death for the Resuscitation of Alcestes.   

A Nile Woman, Frederick Leighton

The self-effacing Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915), a well-liked man whose paintings – if not rejected – were never advantageously hung at the Royal Academy, had Sir Galahad and Endymion.

English: Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad, by Arthur Hughes (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Age of Gallantry, by George Henry Boughton (1833 – 1905), was described as “a bit of last-century life treated with elegant humor and set in a pleasing effect of silvery haze.”  Edward Poynter, A.R.A. (1836 – 1919) showed Andromeda and St. George and the Dragon, his drawing for the design of the glass mosaic in the Central Hall at Westminster.

Christie's, 24 June 1983, Lot 101

Andromeda, by Edward Poynter [Christie’s, 24 June 1983, Lot 101] (Photo: Wikipedia)

John Evan Hodgson (1831 – 1895) painted Algerian subjects, The Basha’s Black Guards and Arab Prisoners.

Arab Prisoners, by John Evan Hodgson (1831 – 1895)

Arab Prisoners, by John Evan Hodgson (1831 – 1895). (Photo:  Wikigallery.org)

Philip Hermogenes Calderon, R.A. (1833 – 1898) exhibited Virgin’s BowerOrphans, and Spring Driving Away Winter (the figure of Spring, according to one matter-of-fact reviewer, is an “exuberant, flushed damsel” – a “blooming virgin” – who “pelts” an old woman, representing Winter, with fresh lilacs).

The Virgin’s Bower, Philip Hermogenes Calderon

Orphans, by Philip Hermogenes Calderon.  (Photo:  Wikipedia)

George Adolphus Storey (1834 – 1919) exhibited Only a Rabbit (a picture of hunters returning home with little to show) and A DuetWilliam Yeames, A.R.A. (1835 – 1918), a gentleman painter who enjoyed playing tennis and spent holidays south-east of London at Hever Castle, had Maunday ThursdayVisit to the Haunted Chamber and Love’s Young DreamGeorge Dunlop Leslie, A.R.A. (1835 – 1921), a favorite of John Ruskin, exhibited Fortunes, in which a group of damsels try to divine their nuptial fortunes by throwing flowers in the water and watching as the flowers sink, stay or float away (meaning the marital fate is as yet unknown).  According to one newspaper critic, this painting features “a gold brunette, with amorous eyes” gazing over the shoulder of another girl, who has a puppy on her lap and who evidently does not desire to know her connubial future.  “It is Mr. Leslie’s best picture,” proclaimed this writer.

Among the younger artists represented at the Royal Academy in 1870 were Val Prinsep (1838 – 1904), who had The Death of CleopatraThe Dish of Tea and Reading ‘Sir Charles Grandison.’

The Death of Cleopatra, by Val Prinsep

The Dish of Tea, by Val Prinsep

Simeon Solomon (1840 – 1905) exhibited A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies, which the reviewer for the Art Journal found “alarmingly lackadaisical,” sniping that “these ‘tales’ could not have sparkled with wit.”  

A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies, by Simeon Solomon. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Frederick Trevelyan Goodall (1848 – 1871), the son of Frederick Goodall (1822-1904), showed The Return of Ulysses, and Albert Moore (1841 – 1893) exhibited A Garden.

Albert Moore - A Garden - Google Art Project

A Garden, by Albert Moore [Google Art Project] (Photo: Wikipedia)

Some foreigners and numerous women [who were not allowed to attend the annual Royal Academy dinner] provided a bit of diversity in the exhibition.  Mrs. E. M. Ward (Henrietta Mary Ada Ward, 1832 – 1924), “at her best” according to one critic, exhibited The First Interview with the Divorced Empress Josephine with the King of Rome [while her husband, Edward Matthew Ward, R.A. (1816 – 1879) showed The Trial of Baxter, of ‘The Saint’s Everlasting Rest’ by Judge Jeffreys]Miss Maria Spartali (1844 – 1927), a student of Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893), exhibited, along with his daughters:  Miss Catherine Madox Brown (1850 – 1927) with Thinking and Miss Lucy Madox Brown (1843-1894; she would marry English writer and critic William Michael Rossetti in 1874) with A DuetMiss Louise Romer (1843 – 1933), a determined 27-year-old painter just back from four years in Paris with her ne’er-do-well husband, Frank, submitted a three-quarters portrait of herself carrying a pot of azaleas that she called Bud and Bloom, which was rejected by the Hanging Committee.  Her painting Consolation also was rejected, but she persevered; Frank had served as secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, and he had been sacked for gambling.  It was the Baroness de Rothschild who had encouraged Louise to pursue a career in art.

A Duet (1870), by Lucy Madox Brown. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)

Although many established British artists were of foreign ancestry or birth, “foreigners” in this Royal Academy exhibition included a number of French painters, such as Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904), who displayed Jerusalem – and his lurid scene of Parisian violence in a controversial execution by firing squad after Napolean’s defeat, The Death of Marshal Ley (also known as December 7, 1815, 9 O’Clock in the Morning).  This picture must have seemed a jarring contrast on a wall filled with English damsels, British legends, genteel humor and sentimental slices of life, serene landscapes, allegories, and noble Classical history and mythology.

Alphonse Legros (1837 – 1911), a Frenchman who moved to England in 1863 and married Miss Frances Rosetta Hodgson (whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti described as a “nice little woman”), had three paintings; Scène de Barricade, Prêtres au Lutrin/ Two Priests at the Organ (now at the Tate Britain as Rehearsing the Serviceand another of an old priest praying, Viellard au Prière.  Though a foreigner, Legros was assimilating into the British Establishment as a respected teacher of etching at the South Kensington School of Art.

Nevertheless, the British maintained a skeptical view of the French.  The March 5, 1870 issue of the British weekly journal, The Architect, carried an article, “Forthcoming Pictures at the Royal Academy,” which offered this:  “Mr. Legros has this year chosen for the incident of his principal picture A Barricade, a subject which is dissimilar to those usually selected for illustration by this artist, but with which his nationality has doubtless made him familiar.”

Stay tuned for The Royal Academy Exhibition:  London, 1870 (Part II) – featuring James Whistler, Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  Part III will feature J.E. Millais

© 2013 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. 

Exhibition note:

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900
February 17–May 19, 2013 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The first major survey of the art of the Pre-Raphaelites to be shown in the United States features some 130 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative art objects.

For more information, visit http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/preraphaelites.shtm

Watch my new videos:

The Strange Career of James Tissot” (2:33 minutes)


Louise Jopling and James Tissot” (2:42 minutes)

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.