This imposing group portrait commissioned from Tissot at the end of the Second Empire invites us to access the intimacy of the Circle of the Rue Royale, a male club founded in 1852. Each one of the twelve models paid 1000 Francs for the painting to be made, and the final owner was to be determined via a special draw. Baron Hottinger, seated to the right of the sofa, was eventually named the winner. The painting remained in his family until it was acquired by the Musée d'Orsay. Among the most remarkable personalities of the group is the Marquis de Galliffet, who would later be a ferocious opponent to the Paris Commune in 1871, standing to the right of the painting and leaning on an armchair where Prince Edmond-Melchior de Polignac is sitting. Standing to the far right of the painting is Charles Haas, who years later would become one of Marcel Proust's sources of inspiration for the character of Swann in Remembrance of Things Past.
Son of a fashion seller and a milliner, Tissot always gave particular attention to clothes in his painting. The Circle of the Rue Royale offered every opportunity to express this interest and demonstrate an extreme accuracy that vied with that of photography. Costumes and accessories rendered with many details testify to the taste of the aristocracy in the 1860s whilst showing the social status of these men captured in prestigious surroundings.
The scene takes place on one of the balconies of the Hôtel de Coislin that still overlooks the Place de la Concorde. The carriage and passers-by one can see through the balustrade convey the animation of the square, whilst above the trees one can distinguish the roofs of the Palais de l'Industrie built for the 1855 World Fair and now destroyed.
Not unusual for Tissot, the painter seems to have played with different registers, mingling several artistic references. Still loyal to Ingres's teaching, close to those who were to become the Impressionists, he broke free from French tradition by staging this group portrait outside, in the style of British conversation pieces.
A major example of Tissot's modernity, emblematic of the intellectual and mundane atmosphere of the time, this piece contributed to the young painter's recognition as he was emerging as one of the most talented portrait painters of his generation.