Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

Figure 1.--This Tissot painting, "The Garden Bench" shows an idealized scene un a Victorian Garden. I am not sure, however, about the date and wether it was done in France or England.

French painter James Tissot fled France after the French Commune in 1871 and lived and worked in England where he was widly popular. Modern critics consider his work insipid and sugary. Sugary it is, but it is also technically skilled and provides us marvelosly detailed windows into the life of the Victorian family--however idealized. His images provide fascinating glimes on the children appearing in all the static studio shots of the late 19th Century.


Tissot was born in France during 1836, but I have no information on his childhood.

Family Life

I have no information on his family life.


Tissot early in his career painted historical costume pieces, but in the mid-1860s turned with great success to scenes of contemporarylife, usually involving fashionable women.

Following the turbulent events of the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris and his alleged involvement in the Paris Commune (1871), Tissot took refuge in London, where he lived and worked from 1871 to 1882.

Tissote was just as successful in London as he had been in Paris and lived in some style in St John's Wood. Jist afew years after he arrived in London, Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically in 1874 that Tissot had ... a studio with a waiting room where, at alltimes, 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.

Tissot's mistress, In 1882, Kathleen Newton (the archetypal Tissot model--beautiful but rather vacant) died in 1882. After which he retuned to France in 1882. He visited the Holuland in 1866-67 and underwent a religious conversion in 1888. It reportedly occurred after he entered a church to "catch the atmosphere for a picture". He subsequently devoted himself to religious subjects. His illustrations of classic Biblical events were even popular than his "candy-box" era. He exhibited widely and published his drawings in book form.


Tissot's paintings are distinguished most obviously by his love of painting fashionable women's costumes: indeed, his work--which has a fashion-plate elegance and a candy-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.

Figure 2.--This Tissot painting, "Hide and Seak" shows children playing that classic game in a drawing room. The child in the dress could be a boy or girl. Note the red ribbons and matching hair bows.

Popularity and Assessment

Tissot was perhaps perfectly atuned to the Victorian era. His highly sentimental work appealed to the sentimentality of the Victorians. Among fellow artists, Tissot was very controversial. He had his admirers. Van Gogh of all people greatly admired Tissot. Many artists, however, disparaged his sentimentality. Tissot was considered insipid and sugary, even rather vulgar by many other artists and art critics. Gauguin for example despised his work, but he didn't like Van Gogh's work either. This negative assessment continued for years after his passing. There has been a recent, but not universal, reevaluation of his work. An upsurge of interest in him, expressed in auction prices for his work as well as in numerous books and exhibitions assessing his work.


Tissot did not focus his work on children. He did focus on fashionable women and there children are often portrayed in the paintings. They provide marvelous, if idealized, glimpses of Victorian family life. Although Tissot painted many of his candy-box images in England, they seem to picture more French than English family life. The children are not pictured closeted away in the nursery. Rather they are romping around drawing rooms and gardens.


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Created: March 15, 1999
Updfated: February 18, 2001