Jacques Joseph Tissot

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Jacques Joseph Tissot

Portrait of James Tissot by Edgar Degas
Jacques Joseph Tissot (15 October 1836 – 8 August 1902), who became known as James Tissot by 1854, was a French painter and illustrator. He left Paris for London in 1871. 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 made paintings illustrating the Bible.

Early life

Tissot was born in the port town of Nantes, France and spent his early childhood there. His father, Marcel Théodore Tissot, was a successful drapery merchant. His mother, Marie Durand, assisted her husband in the family business and designed hats. A devout Catholic, Tissot's mother instilled pious devotion in the future artist from a very young age. Tissot's youth spent in Nantes likely contributed to his frequent depiction of shipping vessels and boats in his later works. The involvement of his parents in the fashion industry is believed to have been an influence on his painting style, as he depicted women's clothing in fine detail. By the time Tissot was 17, he knew he wanted to pursue painting as a career. His father opposed this preferring his son to follow a business profession but he gained his mother's support for his chosen vocation. Around this time, he began adopting the name of James and by 1854 was commonly known as James Tissot, perhaps because of his increasing interest in everything English.

Early career
In 1856 or 1857, Tissot travelled to Paris to pursue an education in art. While staying with a friend of his mother, painter Elie Delaunay, Tissot enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study in the studios of Hippolyte Flandrin and Louis Lamothe, both successful Lyonnaise painters who came to Paris to study under Ingres. Lamothe provided a majority of Tissot's studio education, while he studied on his own as did most other artists of the time, by copying works at the Louvre. Around this time, Tissot also made the acquaintance of James McNeill Whistler as well as Edgar Degas (who had also been a student of Lamothe and a friend of Delaunay) and Édouard Manet.

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 over 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. When Tissot had only exhibited at the Salon once 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.

Mature career
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 found himself held in high critical acclaim, quickly becoming a successful artist. Like contemporaries such as Alfred Stevens and Claude Monet, Tissot also explored japonisme, including Japanese objects and costumes in his pictures. A portrait of Tissot by Degas from these years (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) shows him with 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 Paris Commune. Either because of the political associations caused by the latter, which he was believed to have joined to protect his own belongings, or simply because of better opportunities, he left Paris for London in 1871. During this period, Seymour Haden helped him with learning about etching. 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. Bowles gave Tissot both a place to stay as well as a cartooning job for Vanity Fair.

He quickly developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life. By 1872, Tissot was able to purchase his own home 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 and during 1872 he earned 94,515 francs, an income normally only enjoyed by those in the echeleons of the upper classes.

In 1874, Degas asked him to join them in the first exhibition organized by the artists we call the Impressionists, but Tissot refused. He continued to be close to the 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 scenes.

In 1875-6, Tissot met a divorcee named Mrs. Kathleen Newton, who became the painter's companion and frequent model. He composed an etching of her in 1876 entitled Portrait of Mrs N., more commonly titled La frileuse. She gave birth to a son, Cecil George Newton in 1876, who is believed to be Tissot's son. She moved into Tissot's household in St. John's Wood in 1876 and stayed there until her death in the late stages of consumption in 1882. Tissot would frequently refer to these years with Newton as the happiest of his life, a time when he was able to live out his dream of a family life.

After Kathleen Newton's death, Tissot returned to Paris. 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 their professional and social contexts. The works suggest the influence of Japanese prints in their use of unexpected angles and framing, as well as a monumental context shown in the size of the canvases. This was the influence of Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics on Western culture.


Tissot in 1898 (detail of a self-portrait on silk).


Late career
In 1885, Tissot experienced a re-conversion to Catholicism, which led him to spend the rest of his life illustrating the Bible. Many of his artist friends were skeptical about his conversion, as it conveniently coincided with the French Catholic revival, a reaction against the secular attitude of the French Third Republic. At a time when French artists were still working in impressionism, pointilism, and heavy oil washes, Tissot was moving toward realism in his watercolors. To assist in his completion of biblical illustrations, Tissot traveled to the Middle East in 1886, 1889, and 1896 to make studies of the landscape and people. His series of 365 gouache (opaque watercolor) illustrations showing the life of Christ were shown to critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences in Paris (1894–5), London (1896) and New York (1898–9), before being bought by the Brooklyn Museum in 1900. They were published in a French edition in 1896–7 and in an English one in 1897–8, bringing Tissot vast wealth and fame. During July 1894, Tissot was awarded the Légion d'honneur, France's most prestigious medal. Tissot spent the last years of his life working on paintings of subjects from the Old Testament (Jewish Museum, New York). Although he never completed the series, he exhibited 80 of them in Paris in 1901 and engravings after them were published in 1904.

Death and legacy

Tissot died suddenly in Doubs, France on 8 August 1902, while living in the Château de Buillon, a former abbey which he had inherited from his father in 1888. His grave is in the chapel sited within the grounds of the chateau. Widespread use of his illustrations in literature and slides continued after his death with The Life of Christ and The Old Testament becoming the "definitive Bible images". His images have provided a foundation for contemporary films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Age of Innocence. In the first half of the 20th century there was a re-kindling of interest in his portraits of well attired ladies and some fifty years later these were achieving record prices.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Moses, watercolor circa 1896–1902

The Creation, Jewish Museum (New York), 1896 and 1902

Adam and Eve Driven From Paradise, between 1896 and 1902

The Ark Passes Over the Jordan, between 1896 and 1902

The Seven Trumpets of Jericho 1896 and 1902

Crucifixion, seen from the Cross (James Tissot)


Hide & Seek, 1877

The Ball


Gentleman in a Railway Carriage, 1872



Lilacs, 1875

The Fireplace


Holiday, 1876


The Gallery of H.M.S. 'Calcutta' (Portsmouth), 1877

Kathleen Newton In An Armchair

The Garden Bench, 1882

Bad News

Young Lady in a Boat

A Passing Storm, 1876

The Thames, 1867

Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby

La partie carrée

Ball on Shipboard, 1874

La Japonaise au bain

At the Rifle Range

Women of Paris - The Circus Lover

Boarding the Yacht, 1873

The Bridesmaid, 1883-83

Young Ladies Looking at Japanese Objects

A Woman of Ambition, 1885


Still on Top, 1873