James Joseph Jacques Tissot (1836-1902),
was a French painter and graphic artist. Early in his career he painted
historical costume pieces, but in about 1864 he turned with great success
to scenes of contemporary life, usually involving fashionable women.
Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris
Commune (1871) he took refuge in London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882.
He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris and lived in some
style in St. John's Wood; in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically
that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there
is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a
garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing
and shining the shrubbery leaves.’
His pictures are distinguished most obviously by his
love of painting women's costumes: indeed, his work — which has a
fashion-plate elegance and a chocolate-box charm — has probably been
more often reproduced in works on the history of costume than on the history
of painting. He also, however, had a gift for wittily observing nuances of
social behavior. In 1882, following the death of his mistress Kathleen Newton
(the archetypal Tissot model — beautiful but rather vacant), he
returned to France. In 1888 he underwent a religious conversion when he
went into a church to ‘catch the atmosphere for a picture’, and
thereafter he devoted himself to religious subjects. He visited the Holy
Land in 1886–87 and in 1889, and his illustrations to the events of the
Bible were enormously popular, both in book form and when the original
drawings were exhibited.
For many years after his death Tissot was considered a
grossly vulgar artist, bug there has been a recent upsurge of interest in
him, expressed in sale-room prices for his work as well as in numerous books
and exhibitions devoted to him.