James Jacques-Joseph TISSOT
(Nantes 1836 - Buillon 1902)
A Seated Young Woman
145 x 199 mm. (5 3/4 x 7 7/8 in.)
Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, who has confirmed the attribution of the present sheet to Tissot, has compared it in particular to a gouache study of a seated woman, apparently the same model, in the Ashmolean Museum, which is a study for the painting of The Captain and the Mate of 1873. Also stylistically comparable is a gouache drawing of the same woman, wearing an identical bonnet and holding a pair of binoculars, which appeared at auction in 1998, while a more finished gouache of the same model, standing and wearing an identical bonnet and cape, was sold at auction in 1989.
The model for each of these drawings was Margaret Kennedy Freebody, who posed for a number of Tissot’s Thames-side paintings of the early 1870’s. Margaret was the wife of a sea captain named John Freebody, whom Tissot befriended soon after his arrival in London. The artist appears to have painted on board two or three ships captained by Freebody; the Warwick Castle, the Arundel Castle and the Carisbrooke Castle. Margaret’s brother, Captain Lumley Kennedy, also appears in a number of Tissot’s paintings of this period.
The present sheet, like three others from this small group of gouache studies of women by Tissot, cannot be related to a finished painting by the artist. As Matyjaszkiewicz has noted of a gouache drawing of a woman seated in a rocking chair, in the Smith College Museum of Art (also posed by Margaret Freebody), ‘Tissot made a number of gouache studies like this in the early 1870’s, perhaps choosing the medium for its proximity in effect to the surface of his paintings.’ Michael Wentworth has further suggested that Tissot’s use of gouache in these drawings may have been inspired by his work as a portrait caricaturist for the magazine Vanity Fair in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, since the technique of gouache on blue-grey paper was common among illustrators.
Datable to between 1871 and 1873, the gouache drawings related to Tissot’s earliest London paintings are, as Wentworth has described them, ‘among the most brilliant of his works...His mastery of the medium was as rapid and his use of it as brief as it was absolute. The nine studies that have been located are all single figures of women, drawn from life...They are brushed in with a freedom that does nothing to negate the marvelous attention to the details of costume and the precision of gesture and expression that lie at the heart of his art.’
Trained in Paris, Jacques-Joseph (known as James) Tissot made his Salon debut in 1859 and soon secured a reputation for his genre and historical scenes. In 1871 he moved to London, where he developed a distinctive and commercially successful style of painting that married French elegance with the English taste for genre subjects. He also took up the medium of drypoint etching, which he used to reproduce his paintings for a wider audience, adding to their reputation. After eleven years in London, Tissot returned to Paris, where he continued to paint elegant portraits of ladies of Belle Epoque society. He also began work on an ambitious series of large genre paintings devoted to the theme of the modern Parisian woman, entitled La femme à Paris, which was exhibited at the Galerie Sedelmeyer in Paris in 1885. It was near the end of this project that he experienced a radical and somewhat unexpected religious epiphany. He decided to devote the remainder of his artistic career to Biblical subjects, beginning with a series of 365 gouache drawings illustrating the life of Christ. After working on the project for a decade, including several visits to Palestine, Tissot exhibited the drawings to popular acclaim in Paris, London and throughout America; they were eventually published in 1896 as La Bible de James Tissot.