At the end of Part 1 of this blog about Tissot I told you that around 1863 he decided to change his artistic style. He decided to abandon his medieval style championed by the likes of the Belgian painter Henri Leys and enter the world of modern day portraiture.
This change of style can be seen in the two outstanding paintings he exhibited at the 1864 Salon, both of which are housed in the Musée d’Orsay. One was entitled Portrait of Mlle L.L… often referred to as Young Lady in a Red Jacket, and this is now looked upon as one of Tissot’s most esteemed portraits. It is an unusual depiction and the first two questions we may ask are what is the young woman sitting on and then who is this Maemoiselle L.L.? The answer to both these questions is still unknown! The young woman’s pose is one of effortlessness, with her right arm dangling loosely over her skirt, and a there is a sense of detachment about her, but her inscrutable gaze is as engaging as it is captivating. Tissot’s depiction of her clothes, the fashionable black satin skirt contrasted by the red bolero with the bobble-fringe was all the rage for all things Spanish in the 1860’s. As usual the addition of items surrounding the lady such as the books coupled with her bold stare leads us to believe that she was independent by nature.
The lady was truly one of Tissot’s great images of the nineteenth century woman and, because of the way she is depicted, it is often compared to Dominique Ingres 1856 Portrait of Mme Moitessier. In Le Grand Journal of June 1864, the art critic Jules Castagnary wrote about Tissot’s change of style:
“…Mr Tissot, the crazy primitive of the most recent Salons has suddenly changed his manner and moved closer to Mr Courbet, a good mark for Mr. Tissot…”
The second portrait by Tissot exhibited at the 1864 Salon was entitled The Two Sisters. We see the two females, dressed in white, standing by a stream. Once again there is a prevailing air of innate stylishness and sincerity about Tissot’s depiction.
The two figures seem to blend in with their surroundings and the painting is often likened to Whistler’s Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl, (Portrait of Joanna Hiffernan), which was exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863 and known to be one of Tissot’s favourites. Once again, we see the Tissot’s depiction of the females as being stylish, sophisticated and well-bred.
Tissot’s friendship with James Whistler meant that he received the latest art news from his friend who had been living in London since 1859. One of Whistler’s near neighbours was the pre-Raphaelite painter Rossetti and soon Tissot became interested in the works of the pre-Raphaelites and how their works concentrated on the beauty of their subjects and less about narratives attached to the depiction. In 1865 Tissot’s painting Spring was shown at the Salon and this had an undoubted connection to Millais’ 1859 work with a similar title.
The similarity of the two was remarked upon by the art critics.
Having been influenced by the Middle Age-style of the works of the Belgian artist, Henri Leys, in the late 1850’s Tissot became enamoured with the artistry of another Belgian painter, Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens, in the late 1860’s. Stevens’ works focused on pretty, fashionably-dressed young women. His stylish young women were always portrayed wearing beautiful clothes and soon Tissot followed suit.
A good example of this style was Tissot’s painting entitled Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon which he completed in 1867 and now hangs in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The subject of the painting was Thérèse-Stephanie-Sophie Feuillant, the Marquise de Miramon. She was from a wealthy bourgeois family and inherited a fortune from her father and in 1860 married René de Cassagnes de Beaufort, Marquis de Miramon. The setting is the Château de Paulhac, Auvergne, the residence of her husband’s family. She is wearing a rose-coloured, ruffled peignoir, or dressing gown. A black lace scarf and silver cross hang round her neck. What is also interesting are some of the accoutrements we see depicted, all of which have been shown for a specific reason. There became an obsession with Japanese art and design that swept France and the rest of Europe after trade with Japan resumed in the 1850s, the country having been closed to the West since about 1600. This trend was known as japonisme. It was the love of Japanese art and design and the collecting of all things Japanese was all the rage. Tissot decided to include a touch of japonisme in this portrait. Directly behind her, standing on the floor, is a Japanese screen depicting cranes on a gold ground. The lady rests her left elbow on the mantlepiece which draws our eyes to it and on it we see several pieces of Japanese ceramics. Also on the mantle is a terracotta bust which alludes to the noble heritage of her spouse. Alongside the Japanese screen we can see an expensive Louis XVI stool and on it is some needlework which we are to believe belongs to the lady and thus tells us that she is a wealthy lady of leisure. The work was completed in 1866 and the following year Tissot wrote to the Marquis and asked if he could borrow the work and have it exhibited at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Marquis agreed and later, Tissot carried out a number of portrait commissions for the Marquis.
Tissot was not only and avid collector of Japanese art and artefacts. This is borne out in a letter Rossetti wrote to his mother in November 1864 about his time in Paris and his visit to Madame Desoye’s rue de Rivoli shop:
“…I have bought very little – only four Japanese books….. I went to the Japanese shop but found all the costumes there were being snapped up by a French artist, Tissot, who it seems is doing three Japanese pictures, which the mistress of the shop described to me as the three wonders of the world, evidently in her opinion quite throwing Whistler into the shade…”
So we know that japonisme began to influence Tissot’s style of painting and one of the “three wonders of the world” paintings was thought to be his 1864 work Japonaise au Bain (Japanese Girl Bathing). The model Tissot used for this work was not a Japanese girl but a Parisian model dressed in a kimono. This was simply a transference of one of Tissot’s Parisian beauties whom he had used before and converted her into a Japanese beauty. This painting which some would declare as being slightly pornographic was his only depiction of a female nude.
Tissot however did use a Japanese lady in his 1865 painting entitled Young Lady Holding Japanese Objects.
In 1868 Tissot’s reputation of painting Japanese scenes had been acclaimed by critics and public alike and he was offered the post of gwa-gaku (drawing master) to Prince Akitake who was the young brother of the last Tokugawa Shogun, who had led the Japanese Imperial Commission to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. At the end of his seven month tenure as tutor Tissot painted a watercolour portrait of his fourteen-year-old pupil which was mounted as a hanging scroll in green and gold silk.
Now that Tissot was recognised for his modern portraiture he became inundated with commissions and one of the most important commission he received was for a group portrait of members of an exclusive Parisian all-male club, of which the Marquis de Miramon was a member. The painting, which was completed in 1868, was entitled The Circle of the Rue Royale. The setting for the painting was one of the balconies of the Hôtel de Coislin that still overlooks the Place de la Concorde. The terms of the commission were quite bizarre. Each one of the twelve members of the club depicted paid 1000 Francs for the painting to be made, and the final owner was to be determined via a special draw. In the painting, the Marquis de Miramon is sitting to the left of the sofa, wearing a top hat. Baron Hottinger, is seated to the right of the sofa, and it was he who won the draw and kept the painting. The painting remained in his family until it was acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in 2011. Once again we see the attention Tissot has paid to accurately depicting the men’s clothing and this probably goes back to the fact that both his mother and father were involved in the fashion industry. The clothing worn by wealthy men of the time along with the fashion accessories were a sign of their social status and one presumes they wanted Tissot to capture every minute detail. This type of portrait is often referred to as a conversation piece. Works of this kind usually depict informal groups, often family members or friends. The people depicted are sometimes, but not always, engrossed in conversation. James Tissot was now forging ahead as one of the most talented and respected portrait painters of his generation, was one of the most sought-after portraitists of chic Paris society, partly due to his skill for placing his proud, if somewhat arrogant, sitters in lavish settings evocative of wealth and sophistication.
Although Tissot may be best known for his depiction of fashionable young ladies he was equally accomplished when it came to male portraiture and an example of this is his 1867 Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay, the Belgian industrialist, Catholic politician and president of the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris. The painting is now housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In my next blog about James Tissot I will look at his hasty departure from France and his time in England.
..……………………………… to be continued.
Most of the information I am using comes from Christopher Wood’s 1986 biography of Tissot which is an excellent read, full of beautiful pictures.