After being wounded in the Franco Prussian-war, and having briefly supported the Paris Commune in 1871, Jacques-Joseph Tissot made his way to London. There he settled from some 11 years. He found immediate success. The public and most critics admired the “delicacy of tone” in his pictures of “pretty English girls”.
The curators of the annual Spring Exhibition at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton were keen to show Tissot’s work. In 1877 the artist agreed to loan ten etchings to the exhibition. The most admired by the Brighton Gazette was Le Veuf [The Widower]. Brighton was fortunate to have the powerful black and white etching. There is also a full-colour version of Le Veuf. Its high colours seem to make the painting rather more sentimental (to modern tastes) than the etching.
James Tissot “Le Veuf” 1877 Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF
Tissot (known in England simply as James) stayed at the Bedford Hotel in Brighton in January 1877. His visit was possibly to ensure that the hanging space in the Pavilion was suitable and to fine-tune the details of the loan.
It is not known how long or how many times James Tissot visited Brighton but the town must have made a great impression on him. The rather fictionalised Un jour de fête à Brighton could well have been inspired by the view from Russell Square into Regency Square. Even today, the twitten (narrow passage) which links the two squares has square-paned pub windows on the left and bow-fronted houses on the right. The twitten dips down into Regency Square – although perhaps not quite as precipitately as in Tissot’s version.
Local residents will also point out that, nowadays, there are two bollards on the Regency Square entrance to the passage. However, it is highly likely that no donkeys had passed through this very urban twitten for many a year before Tissot’s visit. The painting is generally dated “between 1875 and 1878”, so possibly after the artist’s 1877 visit to the town.
Those who are familiar with the bow-fronted houses of Brighton will immediately recognise the sash windows Tissot featured in his painting “Reading the News”. The panelling next to the windows is very characteristic of such houses. Unfortunately the initials on the cap of the gentleman reading the newspaper as well as the red stripe on his trousers clearly show that he belongs to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea – a home for retired military men. The popularly named “Chelsea pensioners” rarely ventured as far as Brighton. Let’s look upon this an artistic blending of London and Brighton.
When Tissot left London in 1882, he took with him his large collection of original Ming-era cloisonné [enamelled] items as well as some modern creations of his own design. At some point, probably after Tissot’s death in 1902, Brighton Museum acquired the stunning jardinière [plant pot] pictured below. The pot is still on display in the Museum as part of the Willett Collection.
To view the other side of the jardinière click here. Even better, visit the wonderful Brighton Museum at the heart of the Royal Pavilion Estate.