acquaintances included the painters Edouard Manet, Edgar
Degas, and perhaps most important, James McNeill Whistler (shortly after meeting
Whistler Tissot anglicized his first name to "James"). Stimulated by the work of
poet and critic Charles Baudelaire, these new artists began to spurn scenes of history,
religion, or mythology in favor of mundane vignettes from everyday life, emphasizing
ephemeral elements such as fashion and contemporary social practices.
"Tissot painted with an academic tightness of
execution and great attention to detail."
As a young-successful man about town, Tissot was able to observe the boulevard life of
contemporary Paris, including both the fashionable and the illicit modern entertainments
that comprised favorite subjects for the modern painters. Despite his interest in
avant-garde subject matter, Tissot painted with an academic tightness of execution and
great attention to detail. In this way, he created his own uniquely modern way of seeing,
melding traditional techniques with new subject matter. French collectors admired this
skillful mixture, and by 1868 he was earning a substantial income.
In the turmoil following the 1871 Franco-Prussian War,
Tissot was forced to abandon his luxurious life in Paris for uncertainty in London; he was
suspected of involvement in an ill-fated government formed by socialist revolutionaries.
In England, the artist wasted little time finding patrons and building a thriving career.
He remained in Britain until 1882 where his first works adapted his interest in
modern-life subjects to identifiably English settings such as the Thames, the streets of
London, shipping and seaside resort towns. Frequently these pictures portray flirtation of
some sort, either between depicted couples or between a woman painted on the canvas and
the viewer. However, these interactions are often ambiguous or troubled, for a variety of
reasons: threatened separation, rivalries, indifference, or hints of immorality. Tissot
did not paint happy sentimental scenes suitable for Victorian valentines; rather he
captures the complicated, often painful travails of "modern love."
Although Tissot painted portraits of men and included
them in modern-life images, his fascination with femininity and all its accoutrements is a
distinctive feature of his work.
|Remarkably, he repeatedly
painted the same female costumes, often within one picture. This interest in fashion led
the critics to label him "the painter of the parvenu," implying that the
ostentatious outfits depicted were signs of the social climbing, newly moneyed classes.
His pictures were often described as "vulgar," even as or perhaps because
--they were avidly purchased.
Likewise, Tissots own social position put him at
risk of being seen as vulgar. Like the nouveau riche, he was attempting to carve a niche
for himself in both London society and English art institutions. Depicting balls and
people enjoying fashionable seaside towns indicated that he himself had
"arrived," literally and metaphorically, in England. His fascination with
etiquette, interior décor, and elegant accessories were in part due to his personal
interest in the subject. Getting the details right were important for artist and socialite
In England Tissot experimented with printmaking, teaching himself to etch in order to
reproduce his own paintings rather than sell the rights to other engravers. His etching
style evolved into a fluid and original use of this difficult medium. Interestingly,
critics frequently compared Tissots works to engraved magazine illustrations,
photographs, and fashion plates, implying that there was a mass-produced quality to these
unique canvases. Although they usually intended such comparisons as snide criticism, these
writers were in fact picking up on one of Tissots primary strategies for creating
distinctively modern art: looking at popular culture.
Between 1877 and 1882, Tissot painted and engraved a
number of works using model, Kathleen Irene Kelly Newton, a divorced Irish woman who moved
into the artists home around 1876. Her death from tuberculosis in 1882 at the age of
28 appears to have precipitated the grieving artists sudden return to Paris. In
Paris, he attempted to resume his previous place in the French art world, concentrating on
images of women, both in pastel portraits and in a series of 15 pictures titled La
Femme à Paris. LAmbitieuse (Political Woman), also known as The
Reception, (183-85), from the Albright Knox Art Gallerys permanent collection is
part of this series. In these paintings, Tissot set out to explore and celebrate the
supposedly unique character of women in Paris.
After Newtons death in the middle 1880s, Tissot
became interested in spiritualism and then in a more traditional form of religious faith.
Near the end of his life he devoted most of his artistic energies to enormous biblical
illustration projects based on
|both the New Testament and the
Old Testament. His biblical illustrations were his most significant legacy in the years
following his death in 1902.
"His fascination with etiquette, interior décor, and
elegant accessories were in part due to his personal interest in the subject."
The exhibition James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love features many of
Tissots finest works including 34 large-scale oil paintings, 39 prints, and 15
biblical illustrations. On view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery form March 25 through
July 2, 2000, the exhibition represents Tissots entire career with particular
emphasis on the paintings he did in London that reflect his penetrating insight into
Guest curator Malcolm Warner, Curator of Paintings and Sculpture, Yale Center for
British Art, organized the exhibition. A fully illustrated catalogue, written by Warner
and Tissot scholar Nancy Rose Marshall, is available. This exhibition is organized by The
American Federation of the Arts and the Yale Center for British Art. It is supported by an
indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support is
provided by the Benefactors Circle of the AFA.
Admission to the Tissot exhibition is by timed and dated tickets only. Advance ticket
reservations for a specific time and date are strongly suggested. Tickets can be purchased
in person at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Tickets are also
available at all Tickets.com outlets, including all Tops Friendly Markets and at
participating Sam the Record Man locations in Southern Ontario, and on the Web at www.tickets.com.
Tickets purchased through tickets.com are subject to a convenience fee. To charge by
telephone call 1.888.223.6000.
Individual ticket prices are: adults, $8; seniors, $6; college students, $6; youth, $4;
children 5 and under, free. Admission includes a free Tissot Tour-Mate audio tour and
admission to the Gallerys permanent collection. Gallery members receive
complimentary tickets to the exhibition.
Gallery hours during the Tissot exhibition are: Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 11 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Gallery
is closed on Monday. Additional information about the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and James
Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love is available on the Internet at www.albrightknox.org.