Musée d'Orsay: James Tissot (1836-1902), Ambiguously modern

James Tissot (1836-1902), Ambiguously modern

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Looking East towards Japan

James TissotJapanese woman bathing© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon / François Jay
“The latest original event of note is the opening of a Japanese studio by a young painter with sufficient means to afford a small town house on the Champs-Élysées” – this is how the critic Champfleury described Tissot and his taste for the art of Japan in 1869.
The artist was in fact part of the first wave of Japanese-inspired French artists, several years after Japan opened its doors to the West in 1853, and even before the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, to which Japan sent a delegation and at which it exhibited for the first time.

Under the Second Empire, Tissot was one of the most enthusiastic collectors of Asiatic objects and had the great honour of being the drawing master of young Prince Tokugawa Akitake, brother of the last Shogun, and head of the Japanese delegation in 1867-1868.

Tissot, whom the Japanese delegation called chisō, continued to channel his love of Japan in his work.
In 1864, his major painting Japanese Woman Bathing offered a fantasy vision of an imaginary East by depicting a European woman dressed up in a shimmering kimono.

At the end of the decade, the painter displayed his collections to spectators in his works, and to the enthusiastic gaze of the elegant young women who wandered through his town house.
In a striking mise en abyme, this intimate setting treated them as dolls among Japanese dolls, possibly even objectifying the women as ornaments in his collection.

Many Japanese objects recur in his paintings, as can be seen in the brightly coloured prints being handled by the beautiful Mathilde Sée in a late pastel, and in many London compositions – which suggests that Tissot either took his collection to Britain with him or continued to expand it there.

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