Figs. 2a–b. Letter from James Tissot to the marquise de Miramon, 1866. Los Angeles, The Getty Research Institute, 2008.M.8
Painted in 1866,
Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon quietly asserts its modernity while fulfilling its function within the fabric of French high society. The painting represents an elegant thirty-year-old woman as an icon of Second Empire fashion and social ascendance, but with an air of fragility. The sitter, Thérèse-Stephanie-Sophie Feuillant (1836–1912), stands in one of the rooms of the château de Paulhac in the Auvergne, her husband’s family seat. On the wall hang a Netherlandish painting, some miniature portraits, and a gilt-framed mirror. Behind the marquise is a Japanese screen showing cranes on a gold ground, which together with the East Asian ceramics on the mantelpiece suggest Feuillant’s participation in the vogue for all things Japanese (and often Chinese)—known as japonisme—that developed during the 1860s in France. Next to the screen stands a Louis XVI stool on which lies a heap of needlework, a sign of upper-class domesticity. On the mantelpiece alongside the vases sit an eighteenth-century terracotta bust (possibly a portrait of a member of her husband’s family by the late-eighteenth-century sculptor Philippe-Laurent Roland), a bouquet of delicate pink and rose flowers (perhaps the Asian azalea), and a discarded white glove. The marquise wears the other glove on her right hand, gently holding a fold of her voluminous dressing gown, which falls gracefully around her onto the fur-covered marble floor. Her exposed left hand reveals a narrow wrist and delicately tapered fingers, the pale, pink-tinged complexion of which matches that of her fine, unlined face. An aquiline nose dominates her features, which include round eyes and a small mouth. Her hair is neatly braided on top of her head, and she wears a black-lace scarf and a silver cross around her neck, additional signs of her refined, respectable social position.
As if caught in a pensive moment, the marquise looks off to her right, avoiding direct visual contact with the painter, as well as the viewer. A gesture that reaffirms her elevated social position, it also diverts attention to her spectacular costume, a velvet, rose-colored peignoir
, caped à la pèlerine (pilgrim-style), and edged with deep pink ruffles. Two years later, Claude Monet (1840–1926) would employ a similar strategy in his spectacular Madame Gaudibert (1868, Musée d’Orsay), in which the sitter, wearing a sumptuous copper-colored dress, turns away to offer only her profile while removing with her naked left hand the crème-colored glove of her right. Both painters answered Baudelaire’s prescription to artists to participate in modernity by portraying contemporary fashion. In Baudelaire’s criticism, as in these paintings, identity is expressed most forcefully through fashion.
Not herself noble-born, Feuillant was descended from a grand bourgeois family with interests in the mines of northern France. Her father, Xavier Feuillant, a wealthy industrialist and an officer and supporter of the Bourbon Restoration, was a “Gentilhomme ordinaire,” an honor bestowed by King Charles X. Thérèse inherited a significant fortune, which she brought to her marriage in 1860 to René de Cassagnes de Beaufort, Fifth Marquis de Miramon (1835–1882). The marquis was the head of a noble family whose ancestry traced back to the eleventh century and whose title was conferred in 1768 by Louis XV. René de Miramon was an active member of Parisian high society, a racing amateur, and like his wife, an Anglophile. He was elected to the Jockey Club, the most exclusive social club in Paris, in 1858, with one of his sponsors being the vicomte Daru, a founder of the seaside resort of Deauville. The marquis was Tissot’s primary patron at the time of this portrait, and went on to commission several more paintings from him, including the family portrait acquired in 2006 by the Musée d’Orsay (
fig. 1), and the similarly large-scaled group portrait of another of the marquis’s clubs, Le cercle de la rue Royale.
Tissot must have been singularly pleased with the Getty canvas, for he asked his patron if he could borrow the painting back to exhibit at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. This spectacular event, attracting millions of tourists to Paris to witness displays on the latest in French engineering, technology, architecture, and art, provided a powerful opportunity for artists to promote themselves (both Courbet and Manet constructed their own private pavilions near the fair grounds). The Getty Research Institute owns the letter in which Tissot makes his request to the marquis (
fig. 2, translated below). The marquis conceded, and Tissot exhibited both the portrait and a romantic genre scene, Le rendez-vous.
The letter is of interest both in the way Tissot characterizes the Getty painting and in the familiar tone he takes with this prominent member of Second Empire high society:
Buillon, August 27, 1866
My dear Miramon,
I must share with you my awkward situation, I need to have sent a painting by October 15 to the Committee of the Exposition Universelle. I will not be in my studio, and I don’t have time to do another one by then from here: and plus it should be an important one to do me justice in this
salon in which very few [artists] will be elected.
I thought of the recent portrait of Madame de Miramon which is certainly one of the most advantageous [
avantageux] I have ever painted, and which for its novelty as much as well as for the letters in the booklet (as they say, between us) [ par les initiales du livret (soit dit entre nous)] would be, I hope, among the most remarked upon paintings. It is true that it will attract perhaps too much attention for its originality, but, in sum, it’s better like that, and if you would like to brave the publicity, I would be delighted, and indebted to you for the advantages which the exhibition will bring me.
Where does this note find you? Is it at Galliac, or at Dieppe? Here in any case is my address:
JT at Chateau de Buillon
près Guingey (Doubs)
and if you consent, dear friend, I would be indebted to you for this new proof of friendship.
My respects to Madame de Miramon and if that mad Xavier is with you my good wishes to him too.
By 1866, Tissot, born in Nantes of a successful textile manufacturer, had achieved a significant level of not only financial but also social success in the French capital. He had built for himself an imposing house on avenue de l’Impératrice, a broad new street linking the place de l’Etoile and the bois de Boulogne, and filled it with fashionable decorations. Tissot avidly collected art objects from China and Japan and pictured them in many of his paintings of women in interiors. Like de Miramon, he was both a
japoniste and an Anglophile, and he frequented some of the same exclusive clubs as the marquis.
Of equal interest as the informal, friendly tone of the letter are the references to originality and novelty in Tissot’s description of the picture. The painter suggests that he is testing the fine line between fashion and propriety in this painting, an enterprise seemingly condoned by his patron. Within a traditional format and genre, Tissot signaled his participation in the avant-garde in his focus on the relatively informal but highly fashionable dress, on the marquise’s interest in
japonisme, and in the painting’s reference to contemporary works by Manet, Whistler, and Degas. Fig. 3. Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), Woman with Parrot (Young Lady in 1866), 1866. Oil on canvas, 185.1 x 128.6 cm (72 7/8 x 50 5/8 in.) New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.21.3. Fig. 3. Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), Woman with Parrot (Young Lady in 1866), 1866. Oil on canvas, 185.1 x 128.6 cm (72 7/8 x 50 5/8 in.) New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.21.3.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Erwin Davis, 1889. www.metmuseum.org
Woman with a Parrot the same year Tissot painted the marquise, and it is probable that the artists knew of one another’s compositions given their friendship and the sociability of each of their studios ( fig. 3). Manet portrays his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, wearing a peignoir similar in its pinkish hue to that worn by the marquise, but looser and simpler, next to an oddly placed exotic parrot on a perch, all in a Velazquez-inspired empty dark interior. Having been twice featured sensationally naked (in Luncheon on the Grass, Salon des Refusés, 1863, and Olympia, Salon of 1865), here Meurent is just clothed in what was known as a robe d’intérieur or a negligée . In the 1870s in England, the looseness of the garment and the ease of disrobing relative to street attire associated such dress with loose morals. The comparative formality of the marquise’s peignoir safely distances her from such associations, but the frisson of Manet’s composition, shown in Manet’s private pavilion during the Exposition Universelle of 1867, would surely have affected attentive viewers of Tissot’s portrait hanging in the pavilion across the Champs Elysées.
Another artistic confrere who impacted Tissot’s painting in the later 1860s was Whistler, whom Tissot befriended as early as 1856, when according to Théodore Duret, they painted together in the Louvre, copying Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s
Roger délivrant Angélique. Indeed, Whistler may have been partly to blame for Tissot’s decision to anglicize his first name to James in 1859. Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, a mysterious portrait of an auburn-haired girl in a sumptuously rendered white dress, had caused a stir at the Salon des Refusés in 1863. In 1867, Whistler sent another of his “symphony” paintings, Symphony in White, No. 3, from his London studio to Paris for his friend Fantin-Latour to see. This painting of two women dressed in white, alongside a white divan, greatly impressed Fantin-Latour, who wrote back that he and Alfred Stevens liked it very much and that Tissot “was like a madman in front of it, jumping for joy.” Fig. 4. James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864. Oil on canvas, 76.5 x 51.1 cm (30 x 20 in.). London, Tate Britain, N03418. ( https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/whistler-symphony-in-white-no-2-the-little-white-girl-n03418). Fig. 4. James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864. Oil on canvas, 76.5 x 51.1 cm (30 x 20 in.). London, Tate Britain, N03418. ( https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/whistler-symphony-in-white-no-2-the-little-white-girl-n03418).
Digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)
Whistler and Tissot shared an aggressive
japonisme in addition to their Anglophilia, competing as collectors for the goods in Madame de Soye’s shop, La Porte Chinoise, on rue de Rivoli in the mid-1860s. Tissot’s emphasis on the marquise de Miramon’s dress and her Japanese bibelots was in line with Whistler’s aestheticist views on the harmony of fashion, art, and design, and specifically with Whistler’s foregrounding of the decorative as the most expressive element in portraiture. The de Miramon portrait corresponds to Whistler’s series of paintings of beautifully attired ladies in interiors surrounded by japonaiseries, such as Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and in particular Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl ( fig. 4) in which the young woman looks thoughtfully away from the viewer, standing at the mirrored mantelpiece next to a Japanese ceramic and azalea branches. Fig. 5. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Convalescent, ca. 1872–January 1887. Oil on canvas, 65.7 x 49.8 cm (25 5/8 x 18 ½ in.) Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.57 Fig. 5. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Convalescent, ca. 1872–January 1887. Oil on canvas, 65.7 x 49.8 cm (25 5/8 x 18 ½ in.) Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.57
Arguably Tissot’s most significant artistic friendship during the years in which he painted the Getty canvas was with Degas. The two painters worked together in developing scenes of contemporary people in personal settings as subject matter for modern art and, especially, in exploring in their paintings the social and psychological state of Victorian women and to a lesser degree men. Both painters probed “the dark side” of female experience, with images of women in various states of melancholy, depression, and illness (
fig. 5). Like Tissot, Degas had trained under Lamothe in the 1850s, and in paintings both informal and ambitious, the two painters can be seen to have actively responded to each other’s work throughout the 1860s. The Getty portrait may have served as a prototype for Degas’s pastel portrait of his sister Thérèse, Mme. Edmondo Morbilli (ca. 1869, private collection.) And the Musée d’Orsay Portrait of the Marquis and Marquise de Miramon and Their Children is clearly indebted to Degas’s Bellelli Family (1858–60; fig. 6) in the pose of the boy Léon with his leg tucked under his arm, the shallow friezelike organization of the figures, and their psychological isolation from one another. Degas’s ambitiously scaled portrait of Tissot (1868, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) shows a young handsome dandy, fresh off the Parisian boulevards, sitting in a painting studio (possibly his own), surrounded by copies of Japanese art, Baroque and German Renaissance painting, and contemporary genre ( fig. 7. The composition is similar to Tissot’s Portait of Mlle L. L., exhibited at the Salon of 1864. The casual aloofness of the sitter is characteristic of Degas’s self-portraits of the period, and it has been suggested that this portrait of the painter in his studio represents Degas’s self-conception as an artist at the time. The portrait is sympathetic and familiar, and whether the painted copies hanging in the background belonged to Degas or to Tissot, they indicate shared artistic interests between two artists during a formative moment in their careers. Fig. 6. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Bellelli Family, 1858–69. Oil on canvas, 201 x 249.5 cm (79 x 98 ¼ in.). Paris, Musée d’Orsay, RF 2210. Fig. 6. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Bellelli Family, 1858–69. Oil on canvas, 201 x 249.5 cm (79 x 98 ¼ in.). Paris, Musée d’Orsay, RF 2210.
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Adrien Didierjean
An unsigned note scribbled on the back of an envelope to Degas by someone responding to Degas’s
Interior (also known as The Rape, 1868–69, Philadelphia Museum of Art) sheds light on the intimate artistic exchange between the two painters. The writer apparently dropped by Degas’s studio on rue de Laval, and, having missed him, hastily pens a response to Degas’s provocative work-in-progress. Extensive suggestions are made for the painting’s revision, and as Henri Loyrette points out, Degas seems to have followed some of the advice. The identity of the writer is not known conclusively, but both Loyrette and Theodore Reff suggest Tissot. Fig. 7. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, 1867–68. Oil on canvas, 151.4 x 111.8 cm (59 5/8 x 44 in.). New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 39.161. Fig. 7. Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, 1867–68. Oil on canvas, 151.4 x 111.8 cm (59 5/8 x 44 in.). New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 39.161.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rogers Fund, 1939. www.metmuseum.org
That Degas and Tissot were close compatriots in an enterprise about which they were passionate is further supported by Degas’s correspondence to Tissot after the latter had left for London, In letters to his friend, Degas describes paintings he is working on and specific artistic challenges and ideas. One rather desperate letter of 1874 pleads with Tissot to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition:
Look here, my dear Tissot, no hesitations, no escape. You positively must exhibit at the Boulevard. It will do you good, you (for it is a means of showing yourself in Paris from which people said you were running away) and us too… . The realist movement no longer needs to fight with the others it already
is, it exists, it must show itself as something distinct, there must be a salon of realists… . So forget the money side for a moment. Exhibit. Be of your country and with your friends… .
For Degas, Tissot was very much a part of the young group generating
la nouvelle peinture. With Tissot’s exhibition of the Two Sisters and Mlle. L. L. at the Salon of 1864, several critics applauded the painter’s break from medieval genre subjects to execute these “real paintings,” distinguished by their “sincerity of modern sentiment.” The critic Theophile Thoré discussed Two Sisters in the context of Manet and the réalistes, lauding Tissot for the naturalism of light and color, the modesty and simplicity of subjects, and the originality of his painting. Thoré commended Tissot’s break from his earlier medieval genre scenes, but was less positive when Tissot, in paintings such as The Confessional (1866) and Young Woman in a Church (1866), veered in influence toward his friend Alfred Stevens’s more anecdotal style.
Tissot’s more anecdotal paintings were a conscious effort to play to the English market for such images, a strategy that came to dominate Tissot’s practice once he reached London. Alongside Stevens and Degas, and in fact most of the painters who would become Impressionists, Tissot kept a close eye on the English avant-garde, and he was specifically associated with John Everett Millais (1829–1896) and the Pre-Raphaelites and of course with his close friend Whistler. The reserved, tense psychological undertow of the de Miramon portraits are more in line, however, with Degas’s more complicated work. And Tissot is most successful when he avoids anecdote altogether and devotes himself instead to the increasingly dynamic genre of modern portraiture (
fig. 8). Fig. 8. Jacques Joseph (James) Tissot (French, 1836–1902), Self-Portrait, ca. 1865. Oil on panel, 49.8 x 30.2 cm (19.6 x 11.9 in). San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1961.16 Fig. 8. Jacques Joseph (James) Tissot (French, 1836–1902), Self-Portrait, ca. 1865. Oil on panel, 49.8 x 30.2 cm (19.6 x 11.9 in). San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1961.16
Following his move to London, Tissot remained in touch with the Parisian avant-garde through correspondence with Degas, as well as through visits from Berthe Morisot (1841–1895) and Camille Pissarro (1831–1903), from whom Tissot bought a picture, perhaps in part to help the always penurious painter. Tissot and Manet traveled together to Venice in 1875, and Tissot bought a picture from him as well. For these struggling painters, Tissot’s financial success as a painter in London was inspiring, and they looked to him for help in placing their pictures in the English market. Although Tissot’s letters to Degas are not known, Degas’s published letters give the sense of unrequited communication. Degas eventually gave up on Tissot, perhaps disgusted by what he felt to be the London-based artist’s increasingly evident commercialism, by his refusal to participate in the Impressionist movement, by his impassioned return to the Catholic Church after his move back to Paris in 1882, and, finally, by Tissot’s sale in 1897 to Durand-Ruel of two painting Degas had given him. By all accounts Tissot was a difficult, unpredictable character, and his is among the more mysterious and complicated artistic biographies of the day. During the 1860s, however, he was deeply and consistently committed to the avant-garde project of reviving and redefining the great French tradition of painting.
Mary G. Morton September 2012