After being reviled by critics for the lack of originality of his historicist compositions, Tissot presented two radically different paintings at the Salon of 1864: Portrait of Mlle L.L… and Two Sisters; portraits. These paintings featuring a contemporary theme were extremely popular and earned Tissot a place in the Realist camp. Presented by the artist as portraits, these works drew on the great tradition of the portrait d’apparat, on the fashion for elegant genre scenes, photographic portraits, and fashion plates.
Like his friends Whistler and Degas, Tissot played with these various sources and fully embraced this process of hybridisation of pictorial categories and the reassessment of the traditional hierarchy of genres.
As a true Baudelairean “painter of modern life” in tune with the bourgeois and materialistic society of a Second Empire fascinated by its own image, Tissot was keen to depict the distinctive beauty of the facial features, costumes and objects of his era. Tissot’s major portraits painted in the 1860s bring this uncompromising modern ambition to the history painting format.
Innovative yet not revolutionary, sophisticated but with a certain grandeur, Tissot’s art and personality captivated wealthy clients, aristocratic dandies, and the upper middle classes, who commissioned portraits from him and collected genre scenes. These paintings, which were disseminated via the medium of photography, sold by major dealers in Paris and London, and exported to the United States, made Tissot one of the most prominent artists of his time and he swiftly became a wealthy man.