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

James Tissot (1836-1902), Ambiguously modern

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Paradise Lost

Tissot James (dit), Jacques Joseph (1836-1902). Royaume-Uni, Londres, Tate Collection. N04413.
James TissotHolyday© Tate, Londres, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Tate Photography
In the second half of the decade he spent in London, Tissot placed an unprecedented emphasis on the world of gardens and parks.
Frequently transformed into an enclosed space bounded by natural elements such as foliage, lawns and lakes, they provided a stage on which to present captivating and enigmatic scenes.

Female figures, often inspired by the painter’s partner Kathleen Newton, play a major role. By turns dreamy, convalescent, idle, and angry they seem to be the focal point of a plot to which the painter, in a departure from the codes of narrative painting typical of the Victorian era, does not provide a key.
The spectator can discern the outline of a narrative but is faced with an image which cannot be clearly deciphered.

James Tissot Cave and pond© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
However, the meticulous detail which Tissot lavished on the objects which fill his paintings, his highly developed feeling for volumes, and his exquisite mastery of colour are visually alluring, and encourage the spectator to enjoy them first and foremost rather than interpret them, although some compositions seem to be saturated with detail and somewhat overcrowded.
The overriding impression is that the savour comes from within the image – brilliantly executed, skilfully composed, and exquisitely textured with objects, poses and outfits – rather than from an external source such as a dramatic event, parable or historical reference.

The recurring presence of several extremely beautiful ornamental motifs, such as the golden foliage of the chestnut trees which are so prominent in the group of paintings exhibited here, encourages this reading.

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