James Tissot

Portrait

1876

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 914 x 508 mm
frame: 1330 x 935 x 140 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1927
Reference
N04271

Display caption

In the 1870s a new type of genre subject emerged, illustrating scenes of modern life, and fashionable society in particular, with the narrative content kept to a minimum. These were popularised largely through the work of James Tissot, a French artist who settled in London. This painting appears to be a straightforward portrait of a fashionably dressed lady but may not be what it at first seems. It has been previously called The Visit and An Afternoon Call and might be interpreted as a subtle image of social transgression: a young woman making a visit alone, perhaps to a gentleman's house.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

James Tissot 1836-1902

N04271 A Portrait 1876

Inscribed 'J.J. Tissot | 1876' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 36 x 20 (91.5 x 51)
Purchased from Mrs Isa van Wisselingh (Clarke Fund) 1927
Prov: John Polson, Thornley and Tranent; sold by his executors at Christie's, London, 21 July 1911, lot 43 as 'An Afternoon Call'; bt. van Wisselingh, London, £44.2.0
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery, London, May-June 1877 (18) as 'A Portrait', lent by the artist; James Tissot (1836-1902), Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, May-June 1955 (29); James Tissot, 1836-1902, Arts Council touring exhibition, July-November 1955 (21); England, her Friends and Visitors, National Book League, London, July 1956 (243); Victorian Paintings from the Tate Gallery, Public Library, Tunbridge Wells, July-August 1959 (47)
Repr: James Laver, Vulgar Society (London 1936), pl.13

This picture was formerly catalogued as 'The Visit' and was sold at Christie's in 1911 as 'An Afternoon Call', but seems to be the work exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 as 'A Portrait'. The Pall Mall Gazette, 15 May 1877, p.12, cites as representative of Tissot's strongly realistic pictures in this exhibition 'the figure of a young lady in front of a window (18)', while Tom Taylor in The Graphic, 12 May 1877, p.454, refers to what must by elimination be the same picture as 'a full-length of a lady in white coming in at a door'. (Actually she is not completely full-length but is cut off at the feet).

Tissot made a drypoint after it in 1876 which not only reverses the composition but shows the figure with a different face and hat. The print is reproduced and listed in J.J. Tissot: Eaux-fortes, Manière Noire, Pointes Sèches (Paris 1886), No.17, as 'Portrait of Miss L...' or 'Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée'. The latter title may have been suggested by Alfred de Musset's short play of the same name, written in 1845, though there is no direct connection between the play and the incident depicted in the picture and the print. The model for the print, who was not necessarily the same, was identified in the catalogue of the Tissot sale at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris, on 9-10 July 1903, lot 35 as Miss Lloyd.

Published in: Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.720, reproduced p.720

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