James Tissot

“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.”  Edgar Degas, in a letter to Tissot, 1874

Jacques-Joseph Tissot was born in 1836, in Nantes in a seaport on the French coast. Throughout his life Tissot retained an affinity and fascination with all things nautical, and his marked ability to accurately paint rigging and shipboard scene paintings must have come from his boyhood. Tissot was the son of a very prosperous, successful shopkeeper, who was a devout Roman Catholic. Unsurprisingly the young Tissot was sent away to a boarding school run by Jesuits. Tissot senior seems to have been unenthusiastic about the prospect of his son becoming an artist, but eventually accepted the inevitability of his son’s artistic pretensions forming the basis of his career.

Tissot was devastated by his loss, and never really recovered from it. Tissot seemed unable to accept the enormity and permanence of it. It is rumoured that he considered marriage to other women later in life, but these affairs came to nothing. Like many English people at this time Tissot became interested in Spiritualism, and on a number of occasions tried to contact the dead Kathleen. The exotic French artist and his fallen women-one of the great 19th century English love stories. Initially Tissot carried on working back in Paris, in much the same manner as in London. Tissot produced a series of paintings of attractive, beautifully dressed women in sumptuous surroundings. These paintings were, for a time, extremely fashionable. Following this Tissot experienced a profound religious experience, and became increasingly devout. Tissot embarked on a series of religious paintings, visiting the Middle East on a number of occasions, to observe and paint backgrounds for his oil paintings. These paintings were well-received at the time, but in our more secular age have little appeal. James Tissot at Buillon died on Friday 8th August 1902. (From World Classic Gallery)



A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, is the story of ten remarkable years in the life of James Tissot (1836 – 1902), who rebuilt – and then lost – his reputation in London.

By 1870, at age 34, he had become a multi-millionaire celebrity with an opulent new Parisian villa and studio among aristocratic neighbors near the Arc de Triomphe.  Handsome and charming, his friends included the painters James McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and John Everett Millais.  When the Prussians attacked Paris that year, Tissot became a sharpshooter in the artists’ brigade defending the besieged capital.  After a bloody Communist rebellion, fought virtually at the doorstep of his mansion, he fled to London.

Amid suspicions that he was a Communist, he quickly rebuilt his brilliant career among the Industrial Age’s nouveaux riches.  In 1876, Tissot took a young Irish divorcée as his mistress and muse.  He referred to her only as “La Mystérieuse” and withdrew from Society to paint her in his garden paradise in the suburbs.  Within three years, his pictures had pushed the boundaries of Victorian morality, and the British art establishment turned against him.  In a debacle of friendship, fame and loss, his artistic heyday of painting a decade of glamour and leisure in London came to an end.  Celebrated during his lifetime, Tissot has been nearly forgotten by all but art historians.

THE HAMMOCK is a psychological portrait, exploring the forces that unwound the career of this complex man.  Based on contemporary sources, the novel brings Tissot’s world alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

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