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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

James Tissot

James Tissot

James Tissot

Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902), anglicized as James Tissot, was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter in Paris before moving to London in 1871. He became famous as a genre painter of fashionably dressed women.

He knew James McNeill Whistler and Edgar Degas, but turned away from Impressionism and focused mainly on portraits and genre paintings of the Victorian upper classes in a more polished academic style. Tissot depicted his subjects with almost photographic realism. He also developed a reputation for composing ambiguous narratives that hinted at risqué behavior among the wealthy classes and the boundaries of propriety.

Late in his career, Tissot had a revival of his Catholic faith, which led him to spend the last fifteen years of his life painting Biblical events. At a time when French artists were working in impressionism, pointillism, and heavy oil washes, Tissot was moving toward realism in his watercolors.

To assist in his completion of biblical illustrations, Tissot traveled to the Middle East in the late 1880s to make studies of the landscape and people.

A Tour of James Tissot’s Art

James Tissot’s Art

  • Flirtation and Attraction by James Tissot
    • The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)
      • “The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)” by James Tissot depicts a man with two women. All three subjects are used by the artist to explore the subtlety of flirtation and attraction through body language and facial expression.

        In this painting, the chaperone separates the young naval lieutenant from the woman hiding her enjoyment of his flirtation behind her fan. Tissot explores the boundaries of Victorian propriety and social conventions. Tissot’s portrayal of the young woman’s fashionable hour-glass figure, led to criticized of this depiction when it was first exhibited. Museum: Tate Britain

    • Portsmouth Dockyard
      • “Portsmouth Dockyard” by James Tissot depicts three people sitting in a rowing boat. In the center is a man wearing the uniform of a sergeant in a Highland Regiment, with redcoat, kilt, and feather bonnet. He sits with his legs crossed, and his hands clasped around one bare knee. He is turning away from his sullen-looking companion, and towards the smiling woman to his right.

        The painting’s story is about a man trying to choose between two women. Based on the body language and facial cues, he appears to have made his choice. Museum: Tate Britain

    • October
      • “October” by James Tissot depicts the artist’s Irish lover Kathleen Newton who was twenty-two years old and the mother of two children when Tissot met her. From 1876 Tissot lived with her, a divorced woman, which violated the moral standards in Victorian England. Kathleen Newton became Tissot’s muse and preferred model.

        Tissot referred to his years with Newton as the happiest of his life. Unfortunately, she died in 1882, and five days after her death, Tissot moved back to Paris. Museum: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

  • The Life of Christ by James Tissot
    • Crucifixion, seen from the Cross
      • “What Our Lord Saw from the Cross” by James Tissot depicts the view as seen from the cross by Christ as he looks out at the crowd arrayed before him. Mary Magdalene is in the immediate foreground, with her long red hair swirling down her back. She is leaning against the cross with hands clasped just below Christ’s feet, which are just visible at the bottom center of the painting. Behind her is the Virgin Mary clutching her breast, while John the Evangelist is next to her, looking up with hands clasped.

        Few painters have attempted the challenging task of painting the point of view of Christ’s view from the Cross. Tissot manages to cover the diversity and range of possible reactions by the spectators to this terrifying event. The composition forces the viewer, who is conditioned to imagining this scene as an outsider, to imagine themselves on the cross and to consider Christ’s thoughts and feelings. Museum:  Brooklyn Museum

    • Jesus Found in the Temple
      • “Jesus Found in the Temple” by James Tissot depicts an episode in the young life of Jesus as described in the Gospel of Luke. It is the only event of the later childhood of Jesus mentioned in a gospel.

        The episode describes how Jesus, at the age of twelve, accompanies Mary, Joseph, and their relatives and friends to Jerusalem on pilgrimage for Passover. On the day of their return, Jesus “lingered” in the Temple, but Mary and Joseph thought that he was among their group. Mary and Joseph headed back home, and after a day of travel realized Jesus was missing, so they returned to Jerusalem. Museum: Brooklyn Museum

    • Jesus Wept
      • “Jesus Wept” by James Tissot depicts Jesus’ reaction on hearing of the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died.

        After talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’s friends weeping, Jesus was deeply moved. Affected by the loss, “Jesus wept.” Museum: Brooklyn Museum

  • Self-Portrait by James Tissot
    • In 1863, Tissot shifted his focus to the depiction of modern life through portraits. During this period, Tissot gained high critical acclaim and quickly became a success as an artist. Like contemporaries such as Alfred Stevens and Claude Monet, Tissot also explored Japonisme, including Japanese objects and costumes in his pictures and expressing style influence.

      This painting was created during that time before Tissot fought in the Franco-Prussian War as part of the improvised defense of Paris. He joined two companies of the Garde Nationale and later the Paris Commune. After these tumultuous events, he left Paris for London in 1871. Museum: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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Self-Portrait by James Tissot

  • Title:                            Self-portrait
  • Artist:                          James Tissot
  • Year:                            1865
  • Medium:                     Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions                 Height: 49.8 cm (19.6 ″); Width: 30.2 cm (11.8 ″)
  • Museum:                     Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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James Tissot

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French Artists you should Know

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“There is something of the human soul in his work, and that is why he is great, immense, infinite.”
– Vincent van Gogh on James Tissot

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Photo Credit: 1) James Tissot [Public domain]; James Tissot [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.

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