The first comprehensive exhibition of James Tissot comes to Italy. Over 80 works illustrate the world of the French artist who, unlike any artist of his time, represented the European bourgeoisie’s psychological side during the late 19th century.
Entering the world of James Tissot (born Jacques Joseph Tissot) involves leaping two centuries back into two of Europe’s most modern capitals: Paris at end of the Belle Époque, and London during the late Victorian era. Although at first sight the world he portrayed appears to be a stage for sumptuous displays of beauty, bourgeoisie luxury and seductive women, a closer look reveals the artist’s profound understanding of the human soul. Tissot is able to capture even the slightest psychological tension with an ironic, sensual, and detailed touch.
Tissot was a man of irony, self-assurance and ambition, as shown by his self-portrait at the beginning of the exhibition. He was also a man of passion, ruled by a real “obsession” with a woman he met in London in 1876, who would later become his muse and the undiscussed love of his life. Speaking of Tissot would be impossible without introducing Kathleen Newton, a charismatic young Irish Woman and mother of two, whose love affair with the painter caused scandal due to her marriage to another man.
She looks at us beyond space and time in most of the works on display: in The Fashionable Beauty, it is her gaze, the gaze of a beautiful woman dressed in black that transports us to an elegant Parisian ball. The painting was inspired by the story The Most Beautiful Woman in Paris (by Ludovic Halevy), and is a reflection on the ephemeral nature of beauty and the eternal lust and desire of men. Kathleen’s sensuality is again represented with exceptional realism in Reading in the Park, where her big eyes seem to scold the visitor for interrupting her reading and intruding on her peaceful evening. The intimacy between the muse and the artist is also tangible in The Picnic, where Newton seems to invite us to have breakfast on the grass with her children and family.
Kathleen died when she was only 28, leaving Tissot in deep grief; this marked a turn in his work towards religious motifs. The highest point of this mystical phase is the touching cycle of The Prodigal Son in Modern Life, Tissot’s interpretation of the Biblical tale in the Victorian society.
The exhibition also focuses on the fashion portrayed in Tissot’s paintings, with a small section dedicated to textiles and typical dress from his time. Clothing played a major role in illustrating the theme of the journey, seen as metaphor for his exile, and his fascination for distant cultures such as the Japanese one (featured in Japanese Girl Bathing and In Foreign Climes).
As Tissot was a keen observer of his time and society, the works displayed bring us closer to what he saw, and more importantly, capture a unique perspective through his great sensitivity and eye for detail.
Till 21 Febuary 2016
Chiostro del Bramante
Via Arco della Pace, 5.
Mon-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat & Sun 10am-9pm
entry fee €13