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"James Tissot: Victorian Life, Modern Love"
1999-09-22 until 1999-11-28
Yale Museum of British Art
New Haven, CT,
USA United States of America
Admired, studied, revered, and sometimes resented by Victorian society in Britain,
French artist James Tissot (1836-1902) was above all a painter who found the power of
his art in the lives and loves of a modern society. On September 22, 1999, the Yale
Center for British Art will open a special exhibition of over forty paintings, forty prints,
and twenty watercolors in the retrospective exhibition James Tissot: Victorian
Representing Tissotís career in full, the exhibition is co-organized by The American
Federation of Arts and the Yale Center for British Art. The first U.S. retrospective of the
artist in over thirty years, James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love will celebrate
Tissotís dramatic return to both popular and scholarly favor in recent years.
Particular emphasis is placed on Tissotís years in London, giving prominence to the wry
and urbane scenes of life in society for which he is best known. Within this there is a
change of mood that corresponds to the most important events of Tissotís personal life.
His paintings reflect his interest in the worlds of society and fashion that later gave way
to domestic life--glittering balls to picnics in his garden, and crowds of guests to intimate
groups. At the end of his career he turned to the pious recreation of stories from the
Through prime examples of each period of his artistic career, the exhibition will capture
both the professional and personal strains in Tissot's oeuvre.
At the heart of Tissot's work as an artist lies the idea of the modern, that which makes the
present time distinct in appearance and character from the past. Above all, Tissot deals
with the manners and customs of modern love: the drama of attraction and flirtation,
body language and eye contact, the signs of availability, the many degrees of prostitution,
the workings of passion, its frustrations, rivalries and cross purposes, the sorrows of
separation and loss -- all of these in the particular forms they took in Paris and London
in the later nineteenth century.
Though generally favorable, the British response to Tissot was often tinged with
resentment. Many suspected that Tissot made fun of British manners and morals, even
of Britishness itself. It remains one of the delights of Tissot's art to see the Victorians
through the eyes of a foreigner. He gives us the outsider's take on life and love in this
most modern of modern societies, noticing what the British themselves took for granted,
teasing them for their famous respectability and reserve, revealing -- by the lightest of
touches -- that they too thought about sex.
Tissot does not feature largely in general histories of art. He is not a forgotten figure,
however, because his work is collected all over the world with almost a cult-like devotion.
Tissot defies the normal categories: he was neither a leader nor a follower, neither
academic nor avant-garde. He was an outsider in both the French art world and the
British. His work is not in the mainstream of style that flows through the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries from Impressionism to Post- Impressionism, and so on. Perhaps
most important, he was at his best in that mode so woefully undervalued in the visual
arts, the comic.
This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue aims to present James Tissot as an
artist in his own right--to bring out the intelligence, the inventiveness, and the humor that
make Tissot such a highly enjoyable artist.
The exhibition is organized by The American Federation of Arts and the Yale Center for
British Art. Support has been provided by the Benefactors Circle of the AFA.
A fully illustrated catalogue, written by Malcolm Warner and Tissot scholar, Nancy
Marshall, will be published by the Yale Center for British Art and The American
Federation of Arts in association with Yale University Press, London.
Lenders to the Exhibition
The works of art selected for this exhibition are from public and private collections in
North America, Europe, and Australia. Lenders include the Tate Gallery in London, the
Musťe díOrsay in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.