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JAMES JACQUES JOSEPH TISSOT

 

1836 – 1902

James Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in 1836 in Nantes, France to a merchant family. In 1856-57 he went to Paris with the desire to become a painter. Tissot entered the Academy of Fine Arts (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) and studied in the studios of Ingres and Flandrin. However, he actually received much of his education informally, through friends and acquaintances among avant-garde artists and writers. He was a close friend of Edgar Degas, but they later quarreled, and Tissot refused to participate in the Impressionists' exhibitions.

 

Tissot achieved official recognition for his work rather quickly. He first painted historical costume pieces, but in 1864 turned to scenes of contemporary life, usually with attractive, stylish women. Both the subject and Tissot’s manner of painting found success with collectors in Parisian society. However, when the Franco-Prussian war started in 1870 and was followed by the civil war, Tissot left France and sought refuge in London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882.

 

In England, he painted portraits and proceeded with his favorite subject – scenes from the life of society.  He quickly adapted to English tastes, and soon gained a high reputation among the social elite. Despite the success, Tissot was attacked by many critics, including Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Ruskin, who saw in his paintings color photographs of the vulgar nouveaux riches. This contemptuous appraisal did not stop his paintings from selling.

 

About 1876, Tissot met and fell in love with Mrs. Kathleen Newton, a beautiful Irish divorcée, who became his model and mistress. He immortalized her in many of his paintings, depicting intimate scenes of leisure in daily life. After her death of tuberculosis in 1882, he returned to France. He was no longer interested in painting ‘society,’ and instead turned his attention for the rest of his life to illustrating the Bible.

 

Tissot’s works are included in such museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Louvre, Paris.