James Tissot. Part 2- A change of style and japonisme

Self Portrait of James Jacques Joseph Tissot (c.1898)

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.

Portrait of Mlle L.L… by James Tissot (1864)

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.

Dominique Ingres 1856 portrait of Mme Moitessier

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 Two Sisters by James Tissot (1863)

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.

Symphony in White, No. 1 – The White Girl (Portrait of Joanna Hiffernan) by Whistler

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.

Spring by James Tissot (1865)

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.

Apple Blossoms or Spring by John Everett Millais (1859)

The similarity of the two was remarked upon by the art critics.

In the Studio by Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens (1857)

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.

Jacques Joseph Tissot. Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant by James Tissot (1866)

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…”

Japonaise au Bain (Japanese Girl Bathing) by James Tissot (1864)

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.

Young Lady Holding Japanese Objects by James Tissot (1865)

Tissot however did use a Japanese lady in his 1865 painting entitled Young Lady Holding Japanese Objects.

Prince Akitake Tokugawa by James Tissot (1864)

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.

The Circle of the Rue Royale by James Tissot (1868)

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.

Portrait of Eugène Coppens de Fontenay by James Tissot (1867)

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.

Advertisements

Vincent van Gogh, the copyist – Part 1 – Japonisme

The Courtesan (after Eisen) by van Gogh
The Courtesan (after Eisen) by van Gogh

“…good artists copy but great artists steal…”

This was a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso and one supposes that his utterance referred to the fact that every artist is influenced by what has been done before or during their lifetime. I suppose in some way we all borrow because it has all been done before and we are not the originators but to make an artistic element your own, you have to interpret it your own way with your own approach and in my next two blogs I am looking at an artist who did just that.

My Daily Art Display today looks at three works by Vincent van Gogh which he completed during the latter years of his life.   When we think of van Gogh we think of his Sunflower series or works depicting life at Arles but my blog today looks at some of his works which were based on paintings by Japanese artists.   They are not exact copies of the actual paintings but they are his versions of them and the likeness between Vincent’s works and the originals is clearly observable and in the title he gives them he always attributes them to the Japanese printmaker.  In a way the copies were his translation of the originals.  Through his use of colour and technique, which often incorporated his trademark “swirls”, he made them his own and for many, including his brother Theo, they were his finest works.  So why did Van Gogh decide to make his own copies of other artists’ works?  I suppose to find the answer to this question one has to understand what was happening at the time and the situation Vincent found himself when he made these “copies”.

Around the time Van Gogh was born there was a fashion known as Japonisme emerging in Western Europe.  The term Japonisme, or Japonism, was a French term that was first used by Jules Claretie in his book L’Art Francais en 1872, and it referred to the influence of Japanese art on Western art.   The Japonisme trend became very popular in France and the Netherlands.  One has to remember that up until the mid nineteenth century there was no trade between Europe and Japan as the political and military power of Japan was in the hands of the shoguns, and the country was virtually isolated from the rest of the world.  It was not until 1854 that the Japanese rulers sanctioned trade with the West and it was then that Japanese art with its woodcuts, ornamental fans, and delicately painted screens became available to the people in the likes of France and the Netherlands.  This love of Japanese artwork became even more fashionable following the great World’s Fair in 1862, which was held in London, where such Japanese art was on display.  At around this time the Japanese woodblock prints, known as ukiyo-e became popular.  They featured many motifs from those of landscapes and the Japanese love of nature to those illustrating the pleasures of city life such as theatres, restaurants, teahouses, geisha and courtesans and were often simply used as posters advertising theatre performances and brothels.  Sometimes they featured portraits of popular actors and beautiful teahouse girls. They became very popular in Europe and a source of artistic inspiration for the artists of the time, whether they were Impressionists, Post Impressionists or Cubists.

Vincent van Gogh loved Japanese art.  His brother, Theo, ran an art gallery in Montmartre and it was here that Vincent first came into contact with ukiyo-e.   He was also fortunate that his apartment was situated next to the Bing Gallery where the German owner Samuel Bing, an art dealer and importer of Japanese artworks, had thousands of Japanese prints for sale. Van Gogh would spend hours there studying and admiring this “new” form of art and he soon became an avid collector of ukiyo-e and built up a collection of hundreds of prints.  He even organized an exhibition of his own collection in the spring of 1887 at the Café du Tambourin, a popular meeting place of artists.

Left: Evening Shower at Atake and the Great Bridge by HiroshigeRight:The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) by van Gogh
Left: Evening Shower at Atake and the Great Bridge by Hiroshige
Right:The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) by van Gogh

Van Gogh especially liked the works by Utagawa Hiroshige and in 1887 completed his version of Hiroshige’s Evening Shower at Atake and the Great Bridge, which was part of his collection.   Van Gogh simply entitled his work The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige).  With his version, van Gogh filled the border of his painting with a number of calligraphic figures which he had copied from other prints in his collection.  In van Gogh’s version, he used different colours which were far brighter than those used by Hiroshige and van Gogh spent more attention to colour contrasts which he used to enhance his version.

Hiroshige's-Plum-Tree
Left: Plum Park in Kameido by Hiroshige
Right: Japonaiserie Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige).by van Gogh

Another of Hiroshige’s woodblock prints which van Gogh copied as a painting was 亀戸梅屋舗 Kameido Umeyashiki (Plum Park in Kameido), which was published in November 1857.  It was number 30 in a series of 119 ukiyo-e prints made by Utagawa Hiroshige and Hiroshige II.  Hiroshige II was Utagawa’s student and adopted son.   Utagawa Hiroshige died in 1858 and his adopted son completed the series.  This series of woodcut prints was published in serialized form between May 1856 and April 1859 and was entitled One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.   Edo was the former name of Tokyo, and it was a series of depictions of famous sights around the Japanese city.  In 1887, Van Gogh rendered his own version of this print under the title Japonaiserie Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige).

Title page of Paris Illustré (May 1886)
Title page of Paris Illustré (May 1886)

My final example of Van Gogh’s love of Japanese woodcut prints and his desire to produce his own version is his copying of Keisai Eisen’s print entitled A Courtesan, Nishiki-e,  which was made around 1820.  Van Gogh probably came across this print when it appeared on the front cover of the May 1886 special edition of the Paris Illustré with the front page title of Le Japon.  It was this print which Van Gogh used for his painting entitled The Courtesan (after Eisen).  Vincent’s painting is another fine example of his interest and love of Japanese art.

Van Gogh's tracing for The Courtesan(Van Gogh Museum)
Van Gogh’s tracing for The Courtesan
(Van Gogh Museum)

To produce a copy of Eisen’s work van Gogh actually traced the picture on the magazine’s front cover and then enlarged it.  He then set about giving the courtesan Nishiki a colourful kimono and placed her against a framed bright yellow background.  The framed painting of the woman is then surrounded by a watery landscape along with water lilies, a frog on a lily pad and a pair of cranes wading in the water and in the centre top of the background we can just make out two men in a boat.  It is not unusual to have frogs depicted sitting serenely on lily pads or wading birds such as cranes in watery scenes but van Gogh’s choice of these two types of creatures was not purely accidental as in France, during his time, prostitutes were often referred to as grues which is the French word for cranes, and grenouilles, which is French for frogs, and therefore van Gogh could be reminding us that Nishiki was a courtesan, an escort or mistress of a wealthy client, a euphemistic term for a prostitute.

In my next blog I will look at some of the European painters whose work inspired van Gogh to render his own version of their paintings.

I suppose you may wonder why I should choose van Gogh for the Christmas edition of my blog when a more seasonal painting by Thomas Kincaid would have been more appropriate.  Actually there is a connection between van Gogh and this Christmas and that is because for my Christmas present to myself.   I bought myself the six-volume edition of Van Gogh’s letters.  Very expensive, totally inexcusable but then, maybe I deserved the present!!!!!

 Happy Christmas to you all.