In the “About” section of my blog I state quite categorically that I am not a painter. This has now changed in as much as I have now started to dip a paintbrush into paint and touch it to a canvas. Why? As people know my great interest is in art history but people always seem surprised that I have not rattled off a few masterpieces. They constantly ask me why I do not even try to paint. I have now started on that long artistic road and have fallen by the wayside so many times I often wonder why I persevere, but persevere I do. Having said so many times in my blog that I like detailed paintings I tried to emulate the great painters who seem to find it so easy to depict buildings but of course, as you will have guessed, I fail miserably. How artists manage to add so much detail in their work both amazes and frustrates me. Maybe I should paint a few coloured squares or a series of dots instead and then have a highfalutin reasoning behind my depiction! However, whilst I struggle on manfully with my efforts, I want to talk about and show you the work of a genius in this field of cityscape art. Let me introduce you to the English Victorian painter Louise Rayner.
Louisa Ingram Rayner was born in Matlock Bath in Derbyshire on June 21st, 1832. Her middle name, Ingram, came from her grandmother’s family. Whilst she was young she was always known as Louisa but as she grew older she preferred the name, Louise. She was the fourth of nine children. Louise had four sisters and one brother, all of whom became artists. Her father was Samuel Rayner an English landscape artist, who was known for his depictions of buildings and their interiors, including abbeys, churches and old mansions and her mother was Ann Manser Rayner who was an expert engraver of black marble.
At the age of ten, she and her family left Derbyshire and returned to London and it was here that she would spend most of her early life. It was whilst on a family holiday in Herne Bay, when she was fifteen, that she took up drawing and, soon after, she began to study painting seriously, at first with her father who played a major part in her love of art and later under guidance from her father’s artist friends such as George Cattermole, who like her father worked for John Britton, an English antiquary, author and editor, Edmund Niemann, the highly successful British landscape artist who worked mostly in oils. Another of her father’s friends was David Roberts, the Scottish painter who completed long sketching and painting tours of the near East, the Holy Land and Egypt but also specialised in architectural and topographical scenes.
His influence on Louise Rayner is very apparent when we look at the first painting she submitted to the Royal Academy in 1852 entitled The Interior of Haddon Chapel, Derbyshire.
Louise Rayner, like David Roberts, depicted cities and their often crumbling buildings as well as stately homes and their surroundings. During her most active period, Louise, like her father before her, painted a large number of church interiors, and exteriors but what she would really become known for, was her depictions of ancient streets and picturesque yet dilapidated in many of the cities and towns of Britain and Northern France, all of which she always populated by numerous figures. She was a prolific painter and her works appeared at the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1852 and 1886.
Louise Rayner first began exhibiting her watercolour paintings in 1860 at the Society of Female Artists, which was founded three years earlier and has held an annual exhibition in London of the work of women artists ever since. Louise continued to live at the family home and in the early 1860’s this was located in Brighton.
Louise is first recorded as first visiting Chester in 1869. Her paintings from this period are very detailed and charming in a chocolate-box sort of way. They encapsulate the olde worlde charm of Chester and the other towns which she depicted. Most of her works feature people going about their daily business, such as street sellers and people out shopping.
However, midway through that decade, she went on sketching journeys which resulted in beautiful paintings of historical England and Wales. One of her favourite places to visit was the Roman town of Chester (Deva) and it is recorded that Louise was living in Chester at 2 Ash Grove, off the Wrexham Road, in Chester in 1869.
What first grabbed my attention about the Rayner family was the picture above, a painting by Louise Rayner of Aberconwy House within the walled-town of Conwy. It is a place I pass a number of times each week and up until two years ago, I lived just fifty yards from this building.
..………and this is how looked this afternoon !
Another Welsh town she visited and depicted in one of her paintings was Wrexham and above we have her work entitled Street View, Wrexham which she completed in the 1880’s.
Again the local newspaper’s art critic praised her work.
Another of my favourite towns which I frequently visit is Shrewsbury and the town, as it used to be, is beautifully captured in Louise’s painting, Fish Street Shrewsbury.
Another depiction of the streets of Shrewsbury can be seen in her painting, Old Houses, Shrewsbury.
Louise and her younger brother Richard visited the area around the West Midland’s town of Dudley on one of their subject-seeking art expeditions in 1865 and five years later Louise produced this beautiful painting. The depiction is taken from Market Place and we look down Castle Street with Hall Street to the right. In the background, we can see the Church of St Edmund, locally known as the “bottom church” to differentiate from St Thomas’ parish church in High Street (not in the picture) which is known as “top church”. To the left, on the skyline, we can just make out the upper part of Dudley Castle.
Louise traveled extensively throughout Britain each summer during the 1870s and 1880s, but also took trips to northern France and in the picture above we see her depiction of a street in Rheims. The painting depicts Rheims Cathedral in the background. The beauty of this work lies in the drama of the architecture as we see the cathedral spire rising into the sky whilst below we see the street populated by locals. Look how she has used a blaze of sunlight, raking between the buildings, to highlight a man on the right trying to gain entrance to his house.
As it is for everyone, age takes its toll and as she grew older Louise’s artistic talent began to fade probably due to her failing eyesight, unsteady hands and the ability or enthusiasm to travel to towns to seek out new views for her work. Louise exhibited for the last time at the Royal Academy in 1886, and the last time anywhere in London in 1893. She had reached her peak well before she had almost decided to lay to rest her paint brushes at the age of 76 in 1908. The Rayner family dynasty was starting to come to an end. Frances Rayner Copinger died in 1889 and Louise’s mother, Ann, the following year. In 1890 Louise and her sister Margaret set up a teaching studio in Chester but on “retiring”, she and her sister went to live in Tunbridge Wells in 1910. In 1908 the youngest Rayner sibling, Richard, dies aged 65. On August 20th, 1920 her sister and companion Margaret died and Louise Rayner moved to Southwater Road, St Leonards on Sea, a seaside town close to Hastings, where she remained until her death on October 8th, 1924, aged 92.
What surprises me the most is that despite her intricate cityscape paintings, and watercolours, Louise Rayner is not seen as one of the great artists of the nineteenth century. Maybe it is because of the similarity of her work, but can you really get tired of a good thing? I will leave the last word to Peter Watson, the art correspondent of The Observer newspaper, who wrote about Louise following his visit to the Christies Glasgow auction in November 1974. He wrote derisively about the event itself but praised Louise’s work.
“…Louise Rayner won’t be to everyone’s taste – very dense, detailed paintings-cum-drawings of Victorian streets teeming with life: cats fighting, dogs smelling, spivs spivving, washing hanging, flirts leering, babies vomiting, parents spanking. And not a give-away either (priced at several thousand) but they do have a lookatable quality which possibly justifies the price…”
I hope you have enjoyed the last three blogs charting the lives of the Rayner family. Having just completed this one on Louise Rayner and her architectural cityscapes I am going to return to my own canvas, give up my aspirations of depicting a cityscape and just spray a few colours of paint on it and maybe a few zig-zags !!!!!!!
Besides the usual sources such as Wikipedia I got most of my information about the Rayner family from an excellent and comprehensive website entitled DudleyMall.
Samuel and Ann Rayner had nine children of which six excelled artistically like their parents. Having looked at the life of the parents in my previous blog I want to focus on the talents of their children.
Their first-born child was William but he died at childbirth and so the title of eldest child fell on to the shoulders of their daughter Ann Ingram Rayner who, to save confusion with her mother, was always known as Nancy. She was born in London in 1826 during the time when the family were living at 11 Blandford Street, Portman Square, Marylebone. A year after she was born, the family moved to Museum Parade in Matlock Baths, and her early years were spent in Derbyshire.
Nancy started her artistic studies at the age of ten and soon proved to be very talented. In her teenage years she was probably influenced by contemporaries of her father such George Cattermole, a fellow draughtsman working for John Britton. Another was Octavius Oakley, who had developed into a specialist of portraits in watercolour and was, like Samuel Rayner, given commissions by the Duke of Devonshire. Oakley tutored Nancy in the art of portraiture and Nancy’s ability at painting portraits was initially down to his work with her. Other luminaries who influenced Nancy were the Scottish painter, David Roberts who had been a long-standing friend of the Rayner family. When he returned from a sketching trip to Spain he gave Nancy one of his original pencil sketches. Samuel Prout, one of the masters of British watercolour architectural painting, was also a great inspiration to Nancy.
Nancy was the first of Samuel’s children to become an Associate of the Old Watercolour Society. The Society albeit supportive of watercolourists was a male-dominated society for it was only the male Associates who could progress to become full members of the Society and share in its profits and become administrators. Female associates were barred from this transitioning. At the time of Nancy’s election as an Associate there were only three other Associate female painters, Maria Harrison, Eliza Sharp and Mary Ann Criddle who were also affected by this ruling. They were well in the minority as there were 26 male members and 17 male associates. After sustained pressure from the ladies with regards this unfair treatment the Old Watercolour Society changed the rules and appointed them Honorary Lady Members. However, they still were not allowed to share in the profits of the Society.
Nancy then had her first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848, at the age of twenty-two, and was elected a Member of the Old Watercolour Society two years later. The sale of her paintings went well and she received many commissions and patronage. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester was known to be one of Nancy’s patrons.
Her 1850 painting entitled Summer Pastimes, which is also known as Portrait of the Gloucester Children depicts two young children playing. It is thought that the children are in fact the Duchess’s children or maybe her grandchildren as if you look at the window on the right you can see a flag flying over a castle tower, signifying that is part of the royal estate.
Nancy Rayner’s life came to an early end in November 1855 at the age of twenty-nine and so her artistic life was cut short. As a talented painter, maybe if she had lived longer, she would have been as famous as her father or her famous sister, Louise.
Rhoda (Rose) Rayner
The second daughter of Samuel and Ann Rayner was Rhoda, known as Rose. She was born 1828 whilst her parents were living in the small Derbyshire town of Matlock Baths. Her artistic journey began as a teenager when she was taught how to create models using clay and she began to produce jugs and vases. Her late venture into the world of painting was probably due to her love of clay modelling and pottery and she would spend much time making and decorating her pottery figures. It was not until seven years later, around 1850, when she was twenty-one, that she began to paint with watercolours like her siblings. Four years later, in 1854, some of her paintings were seen at art exhibitions. One of the great artistic influences on Rose was the rise of the pre-Raphaelite painters.
Although her interests remained in watercolour painting and pottery her great love was teaching and it is thought that throughout her life she was involved in the private tuition of children whose parents could afford to give their children a good start in life. Rose was fortunate to be able to travel widely in Europe. The fact that she travelled so much and so far from home, like her trip to Russia in 1880 would mean that she had either become very prosperous or that she travelled as part of a wealthy family’s retinue.
Rhoda Rayner exhibited at the Royal Academy and elsewhere between 1854 and 1866, and it is thought it was during this period that she began to call herself Rose.
In the late 1870’s life changed for her. The marriage between her younger sister Frances and her husband Charles Coppinger in 1866 had come to an end. Frances left her husband and went with her daughter Annette (Netta) back to live at her parents’ home in New Windsor. It was in 1879 that Samuel Rayner died and it is thought that Rose’s share of his inheritance allowed her the independence to live on her own at 103 Dalberg Road in the London borough of Lambeth and following Frances’ return home Rose offered to look after Netta who was eleven years old.
In 1881 she completed a painting entitled Russian Balloon Seller, Streets of Petrograd. She had probably made preliminary sketches when she was visiting Russia in 1880 with her niece Netta and completed the work in her London studio.
Rose and Netta were still living together in 1891 according to the census of that year. Their home was now Hampstead in London and the census gives Rose’s occupation as Artist, Figure Painter, Sculptor and Annette’s occupation as piano music teacher.
In 1908, Rose’s younger brother Richard died, aged 65 and Rose moved to a new house and went to live next door to Richard’s family in Orpington Kent. Her niece Netta worked in a hospital during the First World War where she met a Canadian, Robert MacGregor, and when the war ended the couple were married and went to live in Canada. Rose died aged 92, in Orpington, Kent, on January 12th, 1921, just a few months after Netta and Robert sailed for Canada. Rose was the longest-lived of all her sisters.
Frances Rayner Copinger
Frances Rayner was the sixth child of Samuel and Ann Rayner. She was born in Piccadilly, London on August 19th, 1834 and along with her older brother Samuel and older sister Louise was christened at the Newman Street Apostolic Catholic Church in Marylebone the following February.
Frances’ artistic path differed to those of her elder siblings as she never exhibited any of her paintings until she was twenty-five years of age, and then only on one occasion in 1861 did she have a painting of hers, a watercolour, Church of St Andre, Antwerp, appear in a London gallery. It was exhibited in the Suffolk Street gallery in London. The one thing she had in common with her father was her love of architecture and especially the architecture of old religious buildings.
One of her great loves was travel and she journeyed throughout Europe on a number of occasions and from these travels was born a number of paintings featuring places in Europe. Frances Rayner married Charles Copinger in February 1867. It was Copinger’s second wife, his first wife Mary had died in 1866. From his first marriage Charles had five children and with Frances he had a daughter Annette Frances who was born on October 26th, 1867 and a son Ernest Edwin born in 1871. Following her marriage, Frances and her husband lived in Brussels for some years, but by the time of the census in 1871 she and the family had returned to England and were living in the London borough of Islington. The census reports her occupation as an artist and her husband’s occupation stated as being a clergyman of the Catholic Apostolic Church. There was one other occupant of their household, Copinger’s sister Clara, who acted as a governess for the children.
The marriage between Frances Rayner and Charles Copinger ended shortly after the birth of their son but there is no record of a divorce, which was very difficult to procure in those days. Notwithstanding that, Charles simply left Frances and went off to America and in Baltimore in 1878, with or without divorce, he married his third wife Mary Margaret May. They went on to have two daughters and a son. Charles Copinger died on May 9th, 1913.
After the breakdown of her marriage in the late 1870s, Frances left her husband and took the children to live with her mother and father but probably because of the problems of space in her family’s house, her daughter Annette went to live with Frances’ sister Rose. In the 1881 census Frances is noted as living with her son Ernest as a lodger in a house belonging to the Sevenoakes family in New Windsor on the outskirts of London.
Frances Rayner died in 1889, a year before the death of her mother, Ann. She was 55. At the time of his mother’s death, her son Ernest was about eighteen years of age. When Frances died Ernest went to live in Camberwell with his Aunt Grace who had married Frederick Catty in 1869 and the couple had five children of their own. Ernest became a merchant’s clerk when he was nineteen. He died in 1904
Of all the Rayner children the most talented was Louise and I will dedicate my final blog to her life and her beautiful works of art.
My featured artist today is Walter Frederick Osborne, the Irish impressionist and post-impressionist landscape and portrait painter. He was born on June 17th, 1859 at 5 Castlewood Avenue in Rathmines, an inner suburb on the southside of Dublin, about 3 kilometres south of the city centre. He had two brothers and a sister, Violet. He was the second of three sons of Anne Jane Woods and her husband, William Osborne, an acknowledged animal painter whose speciality was portraits of horses and dogs owned by wealthy landowners. Walter Frederick Osborne, known as Frederick Osborne for the first twenty-five years of his life, attended the local school at Rathmines.
Having realised that money could be made from painting, Frederick wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and become an artist. So, once he had completed his schooling in 1876, seventeen-year-old Frederick, enrolled on an art course at the Royal Hibernian Academy School. Osborne made an impact straight away, exhibiting in the RHA annual show in his first year. He won numerous medals and prizes including the Albert prize in 1880 with his painting, A Glade in the Phoenix Park.
In 1881 he attended Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp), where one of his tutors was the Belgian painter Michael Charles Verlat. Whilst studying there he won the Royal Dublin Society Taylor Art Award in 1881 and 1882, which awarded him an annual bursary. This was the highest student honour in Ireland of the time and given annually to a graduate of an Irish art college or an Irish art student graduating from an art college abroad to assist them with the development of their career as a visual artist.
Osborne sent back to the Royal Hibernian Academy a number of paintings he completed whilst attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. One was his 1882 work, A Flemish Farmstead, and this exhibited by the Academy the following year, just after Osborne had been elected an Associate Member. From his earliest days, Osborne was interested in painting farmyards such as the one above. His scenes usually included one or two figures. However, this work is slightly subtler for he merely suggests that the farmyard is a working one by including the jacket that hangs on the open door and the clogs that stand against the wall. Being a great believer that detail is important, he has even depicted the clogs standing on end, suggesting that they are that way so as to allow them to drain after a wet morning in the fields.
He completed his studies in Antwerp in 1883 and travelled to the Breton artists’ colony at Quimperlé. Osborne soon realised that the most noteworthy modern painters were painting en plein air and were using ordinary local people as their models and the Breton fishing villages had a plethora of such willing characters. It was at Quimperlé that he completed his famous Apple Gathering painting which is now housed in the National Gallery of Ireland. The painting depicts a young girl dressed in a peasant costume holding a long stick, busily shaking branches of an apple tree to loosen the ripe fruit. Looking behind her, we see another young girl picking up the fallen apples which are scattered around the orchard. In the background we see the church of Quimperlé which was the subject of many of the artists residing at the town’s artist colony. The painting can now be found in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.
Walter Osborne along with two fellow Irish artists, who were part of the Quimperlé artist’s colony, Drogedha-born Nathaniel Hill and Galway-born Augustus Nicholas Burke eventually left the Breton town and returned to England and headed for another artist’s colony at the Suffolk coastal village of Walberswick, where one of the artists was Philip Wilson Steer, who had studied at the École des Beaux Arts under Alexandre Cabanel, during which time he became a follower of the Impressionist school. Steer would become a leading figure in the Impressionist movement in Britain.
At the start of 1884, Walter Osborne’s early paintings often featured young children accompanied by animals, often their pets. One of his most famous works of this genre came about whilst Walter Osborne along with his fellow young artists Nathaniel Hill and Edward Stott, another former École des Beaux Arts student, travelled through the English countryside, on sketching trips. That October, the trio had arrived at North Littleton, near Evesham, Worcestershire and the painting which evolved from his visit here was the work entitled Feeding the Chickens. The oil on canvas painting measured 36 x 28 inches (92 x 71cms). In the work, we see a young but confident girl, with her earnest expression, scattering corn for the chickens. She is Bessie Osborne, (no relation to the artist), the daughter or maybe a servant in the substantial house which we see in the background. In Osborne’s preparatory sketch for this work, there was another figure, a gardener with his wheelbarrow, but he was not transferred to the finished painting. Presumably Osborne thought his inclusion would detract from the main focus of the work, the girl.
The Irish art historian Jeanne Sheehy’s biography of Osborne quotes from his letter to his father, dated October 12th, 1884, about the details of the work. In a letter to his father he set the scene for the painting:
“…’The weather, I am sorry to say has been bitterly cold the last week, so much so that my model nearly fainted and I had to send her home … It will probably seem funny to you all that my model’s name should be Bessie Osborne …”
The young girl is wearing an embroidered bonnet and holding a basket of grain, surrounded by a brood of hens. A further insight into the making of this painting can be found in the letter:
“…Now I am pretty far advanced on a kit-kat of a girl in a sort of farmyard, a rough sketch on the opposite page will indicate the composition. The figure of the girl which is a little over two feet high is coming towards finish, but the immediate foreground with poultry is merely sketched in as yet. The fowl are very troublesome, and I have made some sketches but will have to do a lot more as they form rather an important part of the composition…”
Also, in the letter to his father Walter asks him to look through his sketches he had done whilst at Quimperlé and find any of chickens which may help with this painting.
During his travels around the English countryside, Rural Naturalism became his favoured genre. He had been influenced by the works of the French painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose works were dominating the Paris Salon and it was this type of work which Osborne preferred to the themes from history or mythology which were taught in the Academies of Europe. Another influence on Osborne was another Naturalist painter, the English artist George Clausen.
From 1883 and for the next fifteen years Osborne spent the summers wandering around the South of England often visiting the area of the beautiful Berkshire Downs or the area around the Hampshire market town of Romsey or the Suffolk coastal villages. Once asked why he did not spend his summers in Ireland he said that it was cheaper to live in England and it rained less which was important as he wanted to paint en plein air. Osborne was not looking for spectacular landscape which he could have found in the West of Ireland, the Lake District or Scotland. His preference was for the sedate beauty of rural villages with their well-stocked picturesque cottage gardens, often his paintings would include farmyard animals such as sheep. Like the French Impressionists, Osborne was fascinated by the effect of light and how it changes during every hour of the day.
Walter Osborne was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1883 and became a full member in 1886. Although Osborne spent the summers travelling around the southern English countryside he would return to the family home in Dublin during the winter months. In 1886, following his election to the Royal Hibernian Academy he received many commissions for portraits and from 1892 onwards, Osborne’s main output changed from landscape work to portraiture. These portraiture commissions were essential to Osborne for his financial survival and that of his parents who relied heavily upon him. Osborne’s permanent move to Dublin in 1892 was prompted by the death of his sister Violet whose newly-born baby was given into the care of Osborne’s aged parents and he had to take on the task of looking after her daughter. His portraiture and landscape works had become so popular and because he received more and more commissions he decided that working from home was not feasible and so acquired his own studio in St Stephens Green in 1895.
One of his best-known portraits was entitled Mrs Noel Guinness and her Daughter Margaret and this was exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and which received the bronze medal. The painting depicts Mary Guinness (née Stokes), the wife of Richard Noel Guinness, and her four-year-old daughter Margaret.
In 1895 he and his friend, the art historian and writer, Walter Armstrong, toured around Spain, where Walter completed a number of watercolour drawings and oil sketches. The following year the two men travelled to Holland where he completed a number of Amsterdam canal scenes.
During this time Walter Osborne put together a series of paintings depicting Dublin street scenes, which some time later were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Osborne made pencil sketches and took photographs of the street scenes and then completed the series in oils in his studio. Probably the most famous of the paintings in this series was Dublin Streets: A Vendor of Books which he completed in 1898. The painting depicts a bookseller’s stall, set up on Eden Quay, looking eastwards towards the O’Connell Bridge. We see a mother leaning against the wall holding a very young child in her arms. She has a fatigued and nervous look about her. By her side, on the floor, there is a basket of daffodils. What is her story? Is she in any way connected to the bare-footed girl who has moved towards the customers who are perusing the books at the vendor’s stall? The little girl has a small bunch of daffodils in her hand which she is holding up to the customers. She has been sent by the lady, maybe her mother, to try and get a few pence for the flowers. It is a painting full of movement from the horse drawn carriages we see crossing the bridge to the barge making its way down the River Liffey about to pass under the bridge. These realistic paintings of street life in Dublin, although in great demand now and a good historical record of the times past, were not as successful then as his portraiture.
Osborne did not forsake his landscape work completely and one his Impressionist-style works, completed around 1898, was entitled Greystones. It is a somewhat moody study 0f the quayside of Greystones, a small coastal fishing village in County Wicklow. In the painting we see a number of fishing boats tied up to the harbour quayside, some of which have the sails unfurled. In the background there are a number of cottages. His use of muted colours and tones such as his mauves, pinks, pale greys and browns induce a sense of soft light. Look how Osborne has cleverly depicted the diffused sunlight on the gable ends of the cottages and again with the way he has represented it with the silvery flickering of the water with its reflections.
In 1900 Osborne was offered a Knighthood in recognition of his services to art and his distinction as a painter, but he refused the honour. His mother became ill in the early 1900s, and Walter spent long periods looking after her. In 1902 he started to paint what was to be his last picture, Tea in the Garden, which remained unfinished at the time of his death. It was a beautiful work, a juxtaposition of his favoured Impressionism and Naturalism.
In 1903, after a strenuous time gardening, he became ill, which he tried to ignore but which developed into double pneumonia. He died aged forty-three, at the family home in Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, Dublin, on April 24th 1903, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. Walter Frederick Osborne never married and left considerable savings behind him. He was one of the most sought after and talented Irish artists of his time.
Tissot had stayed at the home of his friend, Thomas Bowles, when he arrived in England in June 1871, and remained his guest until 1872, at which time he went to live in a house in St John’s Wood, an area inhabited by a number of artists. A year later, with buoyant finances, he was on the move again, this time buying a house close by, in Grove End Road. His friends back home in France could not believe the change in Tissot’s fortunes. His good friend Degas wrote to him about his change of circumstances:
“…I hear you have bought a house. My mouth is still open…”
While others, probably jealous of his success in London were somewhat scathing. Edmond de Goncourt, a French writer, literary and art critic wrote mockingly in his journal, dated November 3rd 1874:
“… Tissot the plagiarist painter, was having the greatest of successes in England. Has this ingenious exploiter of English stupidity not come up with the idea of an ante-room to his studio perennially filled with iced champagne for his visitors, and around his studio a garden where one might observe at all times a footman occupied in dusting and polishing the leaves of the laurel bushes…”
Berthe Morisot and her husband visited Tissot in 1875 and following the meeting she wrote to her mother:
“…he is very well set up here and is turning out very pretty pictures. He sells them for 300,000 francs a time. So, what do you think of success in London? He was very kind; and complimented me on my work, though I doubt if he has actually seen any…”
In another letter to her sister she wrote:
“…Tissot……is living like a prince…..he is very kind, and most amiable, though a little common…..I paid him a great many compliments and truly deserved ones…”
One of Tissot’s paintings in 1874 is now looked upon as one of his most festive works and one of his finest works which he completed whilst living in England. Again, it followed on from other shipboard paintings which Tissot had become known for. The painting depicts men and women relaxing at an event thought to be the annual regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It is entitled The Ball on Shipboard and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, but unpredictably it received an unfavourable reaction from some art critics. To them, there was no narrative, the colours were too garish and some even levelled the complaint that it was “simply vulgar”. John Ruskin described it as:
“…unhappy mere colour photographs of vulgar society…”
The art critic of the magazine Athenaeum said of it:
“…I can find no pretty women, but a set of showy rather than elegant costumes, some few graceful, but more ungraceful attitudes and not a lady in a score of female figures…”
How the critic came to that collusion now seems unfathomable and the supercilious and snobbish judgement he made is completely at odds with today’s views when the work is simply looked upon as the spirit of Victorian fashion and sophistication.
Another of Tissot’s works to be exhibited at the Royal Academy received stinging criticism and yet is now looked upon as one of his masterpieces. The painting is entitled London Visitors. The colours used are mainly grey and muted tones which are suggestive of a typical of a smoky city atmosphere of a London scene on a dull winter’s day. Depicted are a couple of stylishly dressed visitors to the capital standing underneath the portico of the newly constructed National Gallery in London, with the church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields framed in the background. The couple are trying to decide where to head to next. The gentleman checks his guidebook, while his female companion uses her umbrella to point towards Trafalgar Square, which lies in front of them. Standing in the foreground is young boy. He is one of the so-called bluecoat boys, who were students of the charitable Christ’s Hospital School, who often acted as tour guides to visitors to the city.
Tissot’s exalted reputation as a portrait painter was further boosted with one of his most prestigious portrait commissions which he received in 1874. This painting is a royal portrait of the widowed Empress Eugénie and her son, Louis Napoleon, entitled The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst. The painting which is now housed in the Chateau de Compèigne in France is one of Tissot’s most remarkable portraits. It is a portrait of a once powerful family who were then living in reduced circumstances. It is a portrait laced with sympathy. The autumnal colours add to the pair’s mood of sad reflection and feeling of desolation. In it, we see the sorrowful figures of the Empress Eugenie and her son, the recently deceased Napoleon III’s heir. He is dressed in his British Royal Artillery uniform and is depicted supporting his mother as he looks towards us. Empress Eugénie was to suffer more tragedy for sadly her son was killed in 1879, five years after the painting was completed, while fighting in the Zulu War in South Africa.
It was 1875 when a new person entered James Tissot’s life. A person who would bring both joy and sadness to him. The person was Kathleen Newton (née Kelly), an Irish woman who would become his muse and later his lover.
Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly was born in 1854 to Irish parents in Lahore, where her father, an officer in the British Indian army, was stationed. Kathleen’s father finally achieved the rank of chief adjutant and accountant officer in Agra and eventually retired around 1865 and left India and returned with his wife and daughters to live in London. Kathleen had been convent educated, but after her mother died she was sent to boarding school. When she was seventeen her father decided that she should marry. He arranged such a marriage with an older man, Isaac Newton who was a surgeon attached to the Indian Civil Service, and Kathleen was sent off in a steamer to meet her proposed husband, whom she had yet to set her eyes upon. For all intense and purposes, she was a mail-order bride.
Unusually her father had not arranged for a chaperone to travel with his teenage daughter and it was during this long sea passage that she fell in love with a fellow traveller, a Captain Palliser. She arrived in Lahore and on January 3rd 1871 Kathleen and Isaac Newton were married. Being somewhat naïve but one has to remember she was a pious convent girl, on the advice of a Catholic priest, she confessed to her husband about the on-board romance soon after their wedding ceremony and before the marriage was consummated. In a letter to her husband, which I am not sure would have helped her cause for forgiveness, she wrote:
“…I am going to speak to you as if I was standing before God. It is true that I have sinned once, and God knows how I love that one [Palliser] too deeply to sin with any other…”
He was horrified and unforgiving and in May 1871 initiated divorce proceedings. He was granted a decree nisi in December 1871 and a decree absolute in July 20th 1872. Kathleen returned to England and went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Augustus Hervey who lived in Hill Road, St John’s Wood close to Tissot’s Grove End Road house. On the same day as the decree absolute ending Kathleen’s marriage was granted she gave birth to Palliser’s child, Muriel Mary Violet.
It is not known for sure how Kathleen Newton and James Tissot met or when, but the best guess is late 1875. What we do know is that Kathleen Newton gave birth to her second child, Cecil George in March 1876 and that Kathleen, plus Violet and Cecil George went to live in James Tissot’s house that same year. Opinions are divided and arguments put forward fore and against as to whether Cecil George was Tissot’s son. Kathleen gave her son the surname of Newton presumably so that he and his sister had the same last name ! All we do know is that Tissot’s household now included an Irish divorcee and her two illegitimate children and this did not sit well with the “rules” of respectable Victorian society. Although his close friendship with fellow artists remained as strong as ever his relationship with Kathleen found him barred from many high society gatherings. Tissot did not worry about this ostracising for he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time.
One of his earliest portraits of Kathleen Newton was a small (26 x 16cms) drypoint in black ink on cream laid Japan paper, which he completed in 1876. It was entitled Portrait of Mrs N..(Kathleen Newton) often referred to as La Frileuse (a woman shivering) which referred to the fact that Kathleen constantly felt the cold. It is regarded as his finest and most exquisite portrait of Kathleen. It must have been a true labour of love as we know he lost his heart to this Irish woman. The description in the William Weston London Gallery’s catalogue states:
“…It is a work of extreme delicacy yet great richness, of poetic quiet yet great emotion. Unlike the great majority of Tissot’s prints it is worked in pure drypoint, without the strength of underlying pure etching. The use of pure drypoint allowed him to combine extremely fine touches of line, in the drawing of her face for example, with tremendously rich textures in the burr and wiped ink tone in the fur collar or the hat. Kathleen Newton was the inspiration for some of Tissot’s very finest works…”
The fact that Tissot was living with Kathleen was not unusual as many wealthy men kept mistresses but they did not, like Tissot, parade them around openly and advertise their relationship. Tissot did not worry about what society thought about his relationship with Kathleen as he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time. Tissot’s open and very public display of his affair with Kathleen shocked the London society, a society which had once welcomed him with open arms. His choice was simple, embrace Victorian society’s protocol or be proud to be seen with Kathleen. For Tissot there was no question as to which course of action he would choose. Kathleen was the love of his life and he chose her over life amongst London society. James and Kathleen settled down to home life and were happy to mix with their many artistic friends who continued to support them. They never married and the reason for this could be their rigid Roman Catholic upbringing and beliefs. Tissot’s house and garden were spacious and Tissot and Kathleen along with her two children created a private world together and it is this private world which is the atmospheric background to many of Tissot’s compositions of this period including another drypoint, Le Croquet, which he completed around 1878.
One of the first painting in which Kathleen appears is the 1876 work by Tissot entitled A Passing Storm. The setting for this painting is a room overlooking Ramsgate harbour. Kathleen is depicted lying on a chaise longue in an elegant if somewhat provocative pose. In the background, seen standing on the balcony, we see her lover. His demeanour is puzzling. He stands there with his hands in his pockets looking rather impatient and uninterested in the lady. It is a scene of inhibited passion. Again, it is a narrative work which lets the viewers decide what is going on and what has been said between the two to end up at this juncture.
Another early work featuring Kathleen was one entitled Room Overlooking the Harbour. In this work the lady sits at a table having lunch. Across the table from her is an older man who is reading a newspaper.
It was during this period, the late 1870’s that Tissot began to use photographs to help with his depictions and a number of these photographs still survive to this day.
One such instance of this technique was Tissot’s painting En plein Soleil (In the Sunshine) which he completed in 1881. The depiction of Kathleen Newton is from a photograph of her sitting in the garden of his Grove End home. The setting for the painting is Tissot’s Grove End Road garden in St. John’s Wood. It is a group portrait, we see Kathleen Newton on the left depicted in the same pose as in the photograph. On the rug next to her is her daughter, Muriel Mary Violet. The other girl lying under the parasol is her niece Lillian Hervey. To the right is Kathleen’s sister, Mary Hervey, whom she lived with on her return from India, and is seen ruffling the hair of a young boy, Cecil George, Kathleen’s five-year-old son, who may also have been fathered by Tissot.
In 1878 Tissot used another photograph of Kathleen for his painting entitled Waiting for the Ferry. The photograph was once again taken in the garden of Tissot’s Grove End Road home. In it, we see Tissot and Kathleen along wither son Cecil George and her niece Lilian Hervey.
In the painting we see the young girl wearing a large hat with an equally large bow holding onto the wooden rail of the dock waiting for the arrival of the ferry. The woman, modelled by Kathleen, is depicted sitting in the same Windsor chair shown in the photograph. The woman is well wrapped up against the cold and doesn’t look well. In a number of his later works featuring Kathleen Newton, Tissot has depicted her as being unwell and convalescing which is rather sad, bearing in mind the onset of Kathleen’s own illness.
Another beautiful painting featuring Kathleen was his 1879 work Mrs Newton with a Parasol. This is looked upon as one of Tissot’s finest depictions of Kathleen. It has a hint of japonisme in its simplicity of design and the abstract colouring of the background. This is Tissot’s eulogy to feminine exquisiteness. This is Tissot’s homage to the woman he loved.
Tissot, by 1876, was financially secure through the sale of his paintings and he was happy with his life with Kathleen and her children. However, as we all know, life is not all plain sailing. In the latter part of the 1870’s Tissot’s paintings which he exhibited at various galleries were receiving a lot of criticism from the art critics. During the period, late 1879, through all of 1880, Tissot failed to exhibit any of his work at any of the leading London galleries. The critic were probably aware of the disdain shown by Tissot with regards Victorian morals and thought that criticising his work would be pay-back for his laissez-faire attitude to flaunting his private life in public. The art critic of the Spectator scathingly wrote:
“…This year he tries our patience somewhat hardly, for these ladies in hammocks, showing a very unnecessary amount of petticoat and stocking, are remarkable for little save a sort of luxurious indolence and insolence…”
The painting which the critic was lambasting was The Hammock which was set in Tissot’s own garden with its distinctive pool and cast-iron colonnade. In Victorian London having and maintaining such a large and decorative garden was very much a sign of affluence. The painting is all about lavishness, inactivity, and adoration. We see the lady, modelled by Kathleen, sitting back in her hammock, lazily reading her newspaper, There is a glimpse of a white petticoat which had upset the critics believing this would result in male viewers entertaining erotic thoughts !!! Although not discernible from the attached picture the book lying face down on the rug is probably French which alludes to the fact that Tissot had been sitting on the rug at the feet of his lover. Once again Tissot has included elements of japonisme in the painting. It was interesting to note that Tissot exhibited the work at the Grosvenor Gallery instead of the Royal Academy. The Grosvenor was the temple of the Aesthetic Movement and Tissot’s style of paintings were much more aligned to the philosophy of this gallery than the Royal Academy which was looked upon as an older, straight-laced institution which frowned at frivolity.
Another reason for Tissot not exhibiting any of his work during 1879 and 1880 was the declining health of Kathleen Newton who had contracted tuberculosis. In 1882 her health deteriorated rapidly with the onset of consumption. It was an illness that caused her great suffering and seeing his wife in so much pain was almost too much for Tissot to bear. Kathleen, aware that she was dying and saddened by sight of her distraught husband, decided to take matters into her own hands and took an overdose of laudanum. Kathleen Newton died in November 9th 1882, aged just 28. While her coffin stood in Grove End Road draped in purple velvet, Tissot prayed besides it for hours. Later, she was buried in plot in St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green.
One week after the death of his beloved Kathleen, Tissot abandoned his London home at St John’s Wood, leaving behind his paints, brushes and unfinished canvases and never returned to it. The house was later bought by his painter friend Alma-Tadema. Tissot was inconsolable and never really recovered from Kathleen’s death. He left London for good and returned to his homeland, France.
..…..to be concluded.
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.
At the end of the 1860’s Tissot was still producing charming portraits of elegant young ladies. One such paintings were exhibited by Tissot in the 1870 Salon. It was entitled Jeune Femme en bateau (Young Lady in a Boat). It depicts a young lady in a boat wearing a fashionable early nineteenth century costume. Behind her sits her pet pug dog. This type of dog symbolised a sign of affluence and prestige. Look at her face – what is she thinking, why is she in the boat? Maybe she is on her way to meet her lover. We need to also to take into account the alternative title to this painting which was Adrift. So, could this mean her tryst with her beau is not going to go too well.
The other work of Tissot which was exhibited at the 1870 Salon was his painting, Le Partie Carrée (The Foursome). There is a similarity between this work and Edouard Manet’s 1862 work, Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) which had shocked critics and public alike seven years earlier.
For Tissot his depiction was a light-hearted look at eighteenth-century French manners and for that reason it proved a hit with the public. In this depiction, the female on the right lifts her glass high as she downs a glass of champagne, whilst her partner raises his glass to the man opposite in a celebratory toast. The man on the left raises his glass whilst his other hand is wrapped around the waist of his lady and cups her breast. She seems amused and looks boldly out at us with a questioning stare. Is she challenging us to censure her? It is interesting to note that she focuses us with a bold and defiant gaze which is mirrored by that of the woman in the boat in the previous painting. It is as if she is saying “if you don’t like what you see, hard luck!!!”.
By 1870 things were going well for Tissot. He was being celebrated as a great figurative painter and his paintings of elegant young ladies were selling well. What could go wrong for him? The answer for him and the rest of the people of France was war. Napoleon III, the Emperor of France since 1852, in a dispute over matters involving Spanish succession, declared war on Prussia in July 1870, having unwisely been counselled by his military advisers that the French army could defeat Prussia and that such a victory would, at the same time, restore his declining popularity in France. However, by January 1871, after a four month siege of Paris by the Prussian army, the fighting was over and the French were defeated. But worse was to come for those who had suffered the Prussian army’s siege of Paris. At the cessation of hostilities between the Prussian army and the French army, the latter was allowed to form a National Assembly. The Parisians, tense and irritable after the long strain of the siege, were horrified by the action of rural France in electing a monarchist assembly committed to what they regarded as a dishonourable peace. They vowed to end the rule of the National Assembly and the infamous and bloody Paris Commune was formed. The Paris Commune was a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from March 18th to May 21st 1871. The working class of Paris seized power of their own city and established the world’s first workers’ government. It all came to a bloody conclusion in May with the storming of the Parisian barricades by the army. It was estimated that twenty-five thousand died during the siege many summarily executed after the battle was over.
So how did all this affect Tissot? Tissot, during the siege of the capital by the Prussian forces, saw active service when he joined two companies of the Garde Nationale, first the Eclaireurs de la Seine and later the Tirailleurs de la Seine, which included many patriotic artists who committed themselves along with a few talented lawyers, and traders to defend the city. Tissot recorded the horrors of battle with a small number of sketches and watercolours, which were later turned into prints and illustrations.
During the Paris Commune Tissot was rumoured to have become one of the violent revolutionary Communards. So why was he thought to have sided with the revolutionaries. Some believe it was an act of self-preservation and that of safeguarding his property, whilst others believed it was a supreme act of patriotism. What is known is that when the bloody collapse of the Paris Commune came in May 1871, Tissot fled the city and it was this hasty retreat that aroused suspicions of him being a Communard. The Parisian art market was ruined and life as an artist in the French capital was in disarray and so, in June 1871, Tissot arrived in London, almost penniless.
Tissot found sanctuary at the Cleve Lodge, Hyde Park Gate home of his friend Thomas Gibson Bowles, whom he had known and had occasionally carried out commissions for caricatures of prominent men for the magazine Vanity Fair, which was founded by Bowles. Tissot stayed with Bowles for several months and also was given a job of producing cartoon portraits for the Vanity Fair magazine. One such was his caricature entitled A Dandy.
Another was published in the September 21st, 1871 edition of Vanity Fair – a caricature of George Whyte-Melville, the Scottish novelist and poet. Although this was not the type of art that Tissot wanted to concentrate on, it provided him with financial support during his early stay in England.
Tissot’s reputation as a very talented portrait painter was further enhanced with the showing of two male portraits in the 1872 London International Exhibition. One of the paintings was a small (20ins x 24 ins,) portrait which had been commissioned by his friend Thomas Bowles. It was of Bowles’ close friend, Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, the debonair soldier, who was a captain in the privileged Royal Horse Guards, the cavalry regiment that protected the monarch. It was Burnaby who suggested naming Bowles’ magazine Vanity Fair and it was he who lent half of the necessary £200 in start-up funding. Burnaby then volunteered to go to Spain to chronicle his adventures for the satirical magazine. We see Burnaby depicted in his “undress” uniform as a captain in the 3rd Household Cavalry. He is the epitome of an elegant gentleman in a relaxed male conversation. The painting was eventually purchased by London’s National Portrait Gallery from Bowles’ son (and Burnaby’s godson), George, in 1933.
The other Tissot work in the exhibition was also a portrait entitled Gentleman in a Railway Carriage (Portrait of Captain ***) which he completed in 1872 and is now housed at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester Massachusetts. The figure in the painting has never been identified but once again it is a portrait of a well-dressed elegant man. He is wearing a fur coat and over his knees is a travelling rug, on top of which is a book. He holds onto a strap and this very fact gives us the feel of the train rattling along at speed. He studies his pocket watch and we wonder is he late or is the train on time. This portrait is beginning to look like a narrative piece in which a story behind the depiction is beginning to emerge.
Tissot’s reputation as a talented painter was soon recognised in England thanks to his illustrations in Vanity Fair and his meetings with Thomas Bowles’ wealthy connections. In 1873, Tissot finally exhibited works at the Royal Academy which he had completed whilst living in England, .
The most well received of his exhibited works was An Interesting Story which he completed in 1872. The depiction, which is housed in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, is set in the eighteenth century and it is a comedy of manners. Three figures dominate the depiction. A man, shown as a red-coated officer, is seen studying a map which lies on a table. He is recounting a story to two elegantly dressed young ladies. They seem completely disinterested in what they are hearing and find it difficult to hide their boredom. One looks away whilst the other tries to stifle a yawn. It was the type of painting loved by the English public, who were fond of eighteenth century historical and literary scenes with a touch of humour. The art critic of the Athenaeum described the painting as:
“…a capital piece of humorous characterisation…”
Buoyed by the success of the painting Tissot produced several variations on the same theme, such as his 1872 work, The Tedious Story, with its similar River Thames backdrop.
Such River Thames backdrops were used by other artists. The most famous one is probably the American artist James Whistler who in 1864 had his painting, Wapping on Thames, exhibited at the 1864 Royal Academy Exhibition and the Exposition Universelle in 1867. The background to his painting was a Wapping dockyard on the River Thames, close to where Whistler was living. Whistler set up his easel at an inn known as The Angel and he created the scene en plein air. The inn overhung the south bank of the Thames where it widens after the Pool of London and then winds out to sea. I love the juxtaposition of the contrasting colours used – bright turquoise for the water and sky against the oranges and browns used to depict the ships’ masts, rigging and dockyard buildings. The female in the painting was Joanna Hifferman, who was an artist’s model Whistler often used and who would become the artist’s lover. Next to her is Alphonse Legros, the French painter, and they are both in conversation with a sailor.
Tissot was fascinated by the Thames and depicted it in many of his paintings. Maybe it reminded him of his childhood and the port of Nantes which he visited regularly. For Tissot the Port of London docks and the dockside buildings offered him so many artistic possibilities. At the 1873 Royal Academy Exhibition Tissot exhibited two paintings, both of which featured dockside backgrounds. The setting for the painting The Captain’s Daughter is the porch of the Falcon Tavern at Gravesend on the Thames. Tissot completed the work that year, and in it we see the Captain sitting discussing his daughter with her young sailor suiter, whilst they drink some wine. The daughter, tired of the conversation, stands up and gazes absentmindedly out over the river.
The other Tissot painting exhibited at the 1873 Royal Academy Exhibition is probably Tissot’s best known London pictures. It is entitled The Last Evening and is one of his many shipboard paintings. It is a narrative piece and it is up to us to guess what is going on. There is enough of an ambiguity about the depiction to tease us into believing we alone know what is happening. The setting is a ship the night before it is about to set sail. Look at the way Tissot has skilfully painted the background of the ships and their rigging. In the foreground we see a young lady wearing a chequered jacket sitting in a Bentwood rocking chair. Next to her sitting in a wicker chair is a young sailor who only has eyes for the pretty lady. He stares passionately at the girl. In the mid-ground, sitting on a bench are two elderly men deep in discussion. One of the elder men is probably the father of the lady in the chair, the other, a member of the ship’s crew. Leaning over the back of the bench is a young girl who could be the lady’s younger sister, or could she be her daughter? The painting is housed at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery.
James Tissot was prospering in London. His art was loved and sold well. In my next blog I will look at what made him suddenly return to France if life was so good to him in England.
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.
My artist today is the French nineteenth century painter Jacques Joseph Tissot. In the introduction to Tissot’s biography by Christopher Wood, he writes:
“…Tissot was an assiduous and highly competent painter, most of whose pictures are of pretty, elegant women; his work is visually attractive, without being too demanding intellectually…”
It is that last phrase which is probably the reason that Tissot’s work was loved by the public but was panned and scorned by the art historians and art critics. His country of birth, France, look upon him as just a minor artist saying that his work is too anglicised. It probably rankles with the French art critics that Tissot spent eleven years in London during which time most art historians believe he produced his finest work and accordingly was a financial success.
Jacques Joseph Tissot was born on October 15th, 1836 in Nantes, which, at the time, was a prosperous seaport on the Loire estuary. He was the second of four sons. His father was Marcel Théodore Tissot and his mother, Marie Tissot (née Durand). His father, who was born in 1807, came from Trévilliers, a small mountain village in the Franche Comté region of eastern France, close to the Swiss border. As a young man Marcel left home to seek his fortune and through his hard work was a very successful man. He met and married his wife, Marie Durand, a Breton lady, and daughter of an impoverished royalist family. Marcel and Marie set themselves up in the drapery business and she began to design ladies’ hats. So successful were the couple that in 1845 they returned to Marcel’s birthplace and bought themselves a substantial estate, Chateau de Buillon near Besançon.
Jacques Joseph Tissot was brought up in the family home in Nantes. During his early life Tissot inherited a number of traits which were to help him through life. From his father he acquired a business acumen which was to serve him well during his life and make him one of the shrewdest and financially successful of all the nineteenth century painters. From his mother, who was a very pious Catholic, she instilled in him religious feelings which were to change the course of his later life. His parents through their drapery and design business instilled in their son his love of female fashion and elegance. His final great influence was the port of Nantes itself. For a young boy the port and its ships must have been awe-inspiring and many of his paintings completed whilst living in London thirty years later featured scenes of ports and the ships. Nantes was also blessed with great Medieval and Gothic architecture and young Tissot often sketched the buildings and in fact his early career choice was to become an architect.
He was educated at a Jesuit boarding school but proved to be just an average student. At the age of seventeen he had set his mind to becoming an artist and as was the case in so many stories about artists, his parents were dead set on opposing his choice for his future. His father was adamant that his son’s proposed choice of career was a total waste of time and, but for Tissot’s mother, her son would not have been able to follow his favoured profession.
In late 1856, at the age of twenty, Jacques Joseph Tissot travelled to Paris to embark on artistic training. His two main tutors were Louis Lamothe, the history painter with whom Tissot studied both Italian and Flemish Primitives at the Louvre and spent many hours copying them. He also studied under Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin. Flandrin’s most celebrated work was his 1836 painting, Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer (Young Male Nude Seated beside the Sea) which he completed whilst in Rome during his five-year stay, which was granted to him for winning The Prix de Rome in 1832. Tissot spent a short time attending the Ecole des Beaux Arts and it was here he became a close friend of James McNeill Whistler and it was through him that he met the leading French artists of the time such as Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros and Gustave Courbet. Whistler also introduced Tissot to a number of English painters such as Edward Poynton and George du Maurier, the illustrator and novelist. It is widely believed that Tissot’s friendship with Whistler and his English friends made him change his name to the anglicised version, James Tissot
Another of his friends was the Impressionist painter Edgar Degas who painted a portrait of Tissot in 1868. Theirs was a stormy relationship which came to an abrupt end in 1895 when Degas discovered that Tissot had sold one of Degas’ paintings which had been given to him by the artist as a gift. Degas may also have been a little jealous of Tissot’s success in his art sales which were far greater than his own.
Tissot was now seeking new subjects and a new mode of painting and was strongly influenced by the work of the Belgian painter and engraver Jan August Hendrik Leys (Henri Leys), who was a leading representative of the historical or Romantic school in Belgian art. Leys was notable for his history and genre paintings which were often referred to as style troubadour which was a somewhat mocking term for French historical painting of the early 19th century with idealised depictions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This was also a style favoured by the young Alma-Tadema who was, at the time, based in Antwerp.
Leys won a gold medal at the Exhibition Universelle in Paris in 1855 for his historical painting Les Trentains de Berthal de Haze (The Trental Mass of Berthal de Haze). A trental mass was a Roman Catholic mass for the dead on the thirtieth day after death or burial. The art critics appreciated the high quality of his reconstructions of times past through his beautiful depictions of early costumes and architecture, as well as the true-to-life postures and facial expressions of his characters combined with the vividness of the colours he used.
From 1859 and for the next five years Tissot paintings featured depictions of historical and religious scenes, many of which derived from Goethe’s Faust. Such depictions were very popular at the time and paintings featuring these subjects were often exhibited at the Paris Salon and London’s Royal Academy. Tissot incorporated, in a number of his paintings, scenes from Faust and Marguerite, an 1855 romantic opera, which was popular with a number of painters, such as Ari Scheffer. The libretto was written by Michel Carré and loosely based on the Faust legend, but simply focuses on Faust’s romantic encounter with Marguerite (Gretchen in Goethe’s original drama) and the tragic results of their liaison. The character of Marguerite was looked upon by the French public as a romantic but ill-fated figure who was a vulnerable victim of her fate.
Although the public may have liked these works which appeared at the Paris Salon the art critics were less impressed, nevertheless one of Tissot’s first “Faustian” paintings, The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite attracted the attention of an important patron, Comte de Nieuwekerke, a high-level civil servant in the Second French Empire. who persuaded the French government to buy the painting for the Musée de Luxembourg. This was such an honour for Tissot as up until then he had never achieved a medal for his works exhibited at the Salon.
Tissot was not deterred by criticism of his Henri Leys painting style and continued with his historical paintings. In 1861 he entered two of his works at the Salon. One, which he completed in 1860, was entitled Martin Luther’s Doubts. In this depiction by Tissot we see the gloomy figure of Luther leaning against a stone pillar, seemingly lost in thought, and completely isolated from the congregation. It is a depiction of the alienation of the man and this theme of estrangement featured in many of Tissot’s works. This is a depiction of a man, termed as a heretic, who openly rejected several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries earlier.
His second work at that year’s Salon was a more unusual painting entitled Voie des fleurs, voie des pleurs (Way of Flowers, Way of Tears), often referred to as the Dance of Death. This is an amazing composition with all the figures silhouetted on a hillside with the skeletal figure of Death with his billowing white shroud, bringing up the rear with a coffin slung on his back. Although a very theatrical depiction it was one of only a few of Tissot’s early works which was well-liked by the art critics.
Buoyed with the success and the sale of his Faust and Marguerite painting, Tissot decided to carry on with his historical style paintings and in 1863 produced three large-scale works for that year’s Salon, one of which was The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is a remarkable multi-figured painting which is part biblical (the story) part theatrical as the setting looks like a theatre stage set with its medieval buildings. It is a pure Henri Leys-style of painting and one of the last of the type Tissot would complete. The critics on both sides of the Channel were unimpressed. The critic of the London art’s Journal, The Athenaeum stated that it was affected, false and artificial and went on to rebuke him saying that he was wasting his talents by imitating so bizarre a school of painters as that of ancient Flanders. That was the final straw as far as Tissot was concerned and he decided to abandon the Middle Ages for his depictions and instead concentrate on modern life.
Twenty years later however, he did return to the subject of the Prodigal Son with his 1882 work, The Return of the Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return, in which he depicts the prodigal son returning repentant to his father, in a contemporary context. The son’s ship has just come in and his father awaits him at the quayside. This painting is now housed in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC.
..…………….. 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.