Renowned for his brightly colored, highly detailed portrayals of society figures, French-born James Tissot (1836–1902) is viewed as the preeminent chronicler of the social mores of the Victorian era (1837–1914). Tissot was, however, an artist more enjoyed than admired during his lifetime. He was neither an impressionist nor a post-impressionist, neither a leader nor a follower, a position which, in the past has kept him out of the art historical canon. This tightly focused selection of Tissot’s best works revealed him as the intelligent and complex artist that he was and celebrates his dramatic return to both popular and scholarly favor.
Many of Tissot’s scenes from Victorian life are subtle comedies in paint, designed to make his viewers smile at their own vanities. Ever so gently, and with great technical panache, he mocked what he loved. He maintained a cool, dandyish detachment from the sophisticated set, while reveling in every detail of its finery, every sign of its savoir-faire. His subjects — many of them fashionable women — are often depicted as uneasy members of the leisure class. Indeed some of his most popular canvases are peopled with bored, awkward characters. Tissot also imbued his paintings with subtle social commentary, suggesting that the upper class could be comical in its attention to the details of fashion and social graces.
A 207-page catalogue organized by The American Federation of Arts and the Yale Center for British Art accompanied the exhibition, along with many public programs. A lecture series entitled “James Tissot: A Man of His Time” ran through May, presented by Associate Curator of Education Mariann Smith. “A Victorian Affair” gala was held, along with “Tea with Tissot and Friends: Book Discussion Group and High Tea in the Library” and a concert entitled “Beautiful Dreaming: American Popular Songs From the Time of Tissot.”
This exhibition was organized by The American Federation of the Arts, the Yale Center for British Art, and Curator Kenneth Wayne.