James Tissot

Description: James Tissot (1836 – 1902) L’Histoire Ennuyeuse. Etching and drypoint on antique cream laid paper, 1878. 12 3/8×8 inches, full margins. Edition of approximately 100. A very good impression. Wentworth 32.

Jacques Joseph Tissot (French: 15 October 1836 – 8 August 1902), Anglicized as James Tissot, was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter of Paris society before moving to London in 1871. He became famous as a genre painter of fashionably dressed women shown in various scenes of everyday life. He also painted scenes and characters from the Bible.

In 1859, Tissot exhibited in the Paris Salon for the first time. He showed five paintings of scenes from the Middle Ages, many depicting scenes from Goethe’s Faust. These works show the influence in his work of the Belgian painter Henri Leys (Jan August Hendrik Leys), whom Tissot had met in Antwerp earlier that same year. Other influences include the works of the German painters Peter von Cornelius and Moritz Retzsch. After Tissot had first exhibited at the Salon and before he had been awarded a medal, the French government paid 5,000 francs for his depiction of The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite in 1860, with the painting being exhibited at the Salon the following year, together with a portrait and other paintings.

Émile Péreire supplied Tissot’s painting Walk in the Snow for the 1862 international exhibition in London; the next year three paintings by Tissot were displayed at the London gallery of Ernest Gambart. In about 1863, Tissot suddenly shifted his focus from the medieval style to the depiction of modern life through portraits. During this period, Tissot gained high critical acclaim, and quickly became a success as an artist. Like contemporaries such as Alfred Stevens and Claude Monet, Tissot also explored japonisme, including Japanese objects and costumes in his pictures and expressing style influence. Degas painted a portrait of Tissot from these years (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which he is sitting below a Japanese screen hanging on the wall.

Tissot fought in the Franco-Prussian War as part of the improvised defence of Paris, joining two companies of the Garde Nationale and later as part of the Paris Commune. His 1870 painting, La Partie Carree evoked the period of the French revolution. Either because of the radical political associations related to the Paris Commune (which he was believed to have joined mostly to protect his own belongings rather than for shared ideology), or because of better opportunities, he left Paris for London in 1871. During this period, Seymour Haden helped him to learn etching techniques.Having already worked as a caricaturist for Thomas Gibson Bowles, the owner of the magazine Vanity Fair, as well as exhibited at the Royal Academy, Tissot arrived with established social and artistic connections in London.

Tissot quickly developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life. By 1872 Tissot had bought a house in St John’s Wood, an area of London very popular with artists at the time. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists, “in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors'”.

He gained membership of The Arts Club in 1873.

Paintings by Tissot appealed greatly to wealthy British industrialists during the second half of the 19th century. During 1872 he earned 94,515 francs, an income normally only enjoyed by those in the echelons of the upper classes.

In 1874, Degas asked him to join them in the first exhibition organized by the artists who became known as the Impressionists, but Tissot refused. He continued to be close to these artists, however. Berthe Morisot visited him in London in 1874, and he travelled to Venice with Édouard Manet at about the same time. He regularly saw Whistler, who influenced Tissot’s Thames river scenes.

A major exhibition of his work took place in 1885 at the Galerie Sedelmeyer, where he showed 15 large paintings in a series called La Femme à Paris. Unlike the genre scenes of fashionable women he painted in London, these paintings represent different types and classes of women, shown in professional and social scenes. The works also show the widespread influence of Japanese prints, as he used unexpected angles and framing from that tradition. He created a monumental context in the size of the canvases. Tissot was among many Western artists and designers influenced at the time by Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics.