James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

Waiting (also known as In the Shallows)

James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
Waiting (also known as In the Shallows)
signed 'J J Tissot' (lower left)
oil on canvas
22 x 31 in. (55.9 x 78.8 cm.)
Acquired from the artist by Agnew’s, 22 November 1873.
Sold by Agnew’s to Emile Levita, London, 23 January 1874, and re-acquired by Agnew’s 17 February 1874.
Sold by Agnew’s to James Houldsworth for £770, 1 April 1874.
Sold by him through Agnew’s to Col. John Hargreaves for £800, 2 June 1875.
His estate sale, Christie’s 2 May 1896, lot 122 as 'Waiting' (to Sampson).
Agnew’s Picture Stock Books.
Morning Post, 7 May 1874, p. 6.
Graphic, 16 May 1874, p. 474.
Era, 17 May 1874, p. 12.
Times, 26 May 1874, p. 6.
Art Journal, no. 151 (July 1874), p. 200.
Birmingham Daily Post, 28 July 1882, p. 7.
W. E. Misfeldt, James Jacques Joseph Tissot: A Bio-Critical Study, PhD dissertation, Washington University, 1971, p. 146.
M. Wentworth, James Tissot, Oxford, 1984, p. 201.
M. Wentworth, James Tissot, exh. cat. London, Barbican Art Gallery, Oxford, 1984, p. 20.
N. R. Marshall, 'Transcripts of Modern Life', The London Paintings of James Tissot 1871-1882, PhD thesis, Yale, 1997, p. 61.
London, Royal Academy, 1874, no. 387, as 'Waiting'.
Reading Museum, July-August 1882, lent by Mr John Hargreaves of Maiden Erleigh Park, Reading.

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Lot Essay

Painted at the height of James Tissot’s early London success, Waiting combines a number of the artist’s favourite elements – a boat on shimmering water, autumnal chestnut leaves, a pug dog, and a young woman in beautifully detailed fashionable dress – with the enigmatic hints of narrative clues that have made Tissot a favourite with audiences worldwide. As described by the Graphic’s art critic when the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, Waiting ‘contains one figure only – a young lady seated in a pleasure-boat: the first, probably, of a pair of lovers to arrive at the place of assignation.’ But look closely and you will see that the story is not quite so simple.

The French artist James Tissot had found fame in Europe and America during the 1860s with medieval-dress pictures that echoed early Pre-Raphaelite concerns, and modern-dress images of contemporary women and fashionable daily life. His high earnings had enabled him to build a small house near the Bois de Boulogne, and to collect oriental and eighteenth-century art. The Franco-Prussian war, culminating in the siege of Paris from September 1870 to January 1871, had brought a halt to normal life and was followed by the Paris Commune and civil war, put down brutally with mass executions by firing squad. Tissot left the horrors he had witnessed in Paris to visit London in June 1871, and was persuaded to stay, with portrait commissions and work on subject pictures for the 1872 London International and Royal Academy exhibitions. He found a ready market in England for his paintings, selling one work after another to various dealers and direct to collectors. After the enthusiastic public and critical reception of his 1872 exhibits, Agnew became Tissot’s principal client. Edgar Degas, a close friend of Tissot at that time, wrote to him with amazement in February 1873: ‘You are getting on like a house on fire! 900 pounds, but that’s a fortune?’ So successful was Tissot that he had been able to sign a lease for a suburban villa with extensive gardens at 17 (now 44) Grove End Road in St John’s Wood, a London area popular with artists. He had also commissioned an architect to add a large studio and conservatory extension, designs for which were shown at the 1874 Royal Academy exhibition, where Waiting was one of three paintings by Tissot accepted for display. The gardens at Grove End Road had a mature chestnut tree overhanging a pool, which features in many works by Tissot and was used by him for the setting of the present work.

At the 1870 Paris Salon exhibition, before the French declared war on Prussia, Tissot had shown a painting of a young woman in a rowing boat. Engagement or marriage rings are prominent on her right hand, while her left dangles a partly open fan, signifying (in the code of fan flirtation) that she is desirous of an acquaintance. The boat’s single oar, missing rowlocks and location in a thicket of reeds, all underline the message that this young woman is angling to attract someone. Having been sold by Tissot to the millionaire American collector William H. Stewart, who lent it to the 1870 Salon exhibition, the painting was bought from Stewart by Parisian art dealers Goupil and Company in November 1873 for 6,500 francs and sold by them in London a month later for 10,000 francs. London was now the most lucrative market for Tissot’s pictures.

Around 1872-73 Tissot sketched in oil, on a small piece of paper, an idea for a modern-dress version of his 1870 painting (Sotheby’s, London, 7 June 1995, lot 141). He also made a small oil study of the actual composition for Waiting (Christie’s, London, 8 November 1996, lot 175), and a figure study in watercolour and bodycolour (Christie’s, London, 16 October 1981, lot 86). In painting the final canvas for Waiting, Tissot made subtle changes to the figure and her costume. She wears a summer hat with blue bow that appears in many Tissot pictures from about 1872-76. Her black neckband was very chic in 1873, among several trends inspired by eighteenth-century dress, as was the fashion for cashmere Paisley shawls. The yellow shawl, with red and green pattern, is one of several variants owned by Tissot and features in On the River (fig. 1, 1871, oil on canvas, Government Art Collection), dated 1871 and probably painted in Paris. Tissot appears to have brought with him to London various items from his Paris studio, including the shawls. Whether he brought soft furnishings too is doubtful but the green cushion is similar to ones he had in Paris.

The boat in Tissot’s 1870 painting is positioned so that the viewer is placed on the riverbank or in the water among reeds. In Waiting the boat is angled so that the viewer is placed within the craft itself, at the opposite end to the young woman. She looks away and only the dog looks directly at the viewer. The young woman’s gaze is directed up and right, as if to someone standing on the right of the viewer. Her facial expression is uncertain and hard to determine. A glove has been removed from her right hand, revealing pale slim fingers bare of any rings. This is a change from Tissot’s figure study, in which the model wears both gloves on tightly clasped hands, and looks towards but beyond the left of the viewer. Tissot has loosened the clasp in his oil version, and completely changed the direction of her gaze while making it enigmatic. The single right glove lies on the thwart and gapes open towards the right, on a blue-spotted and striped white towel. Has the suitor removed the young woman’s glove in preparation for a proposal, or is it she who has removed a glove in expectation, or even ‘thrown down the gauntlet’ in challenge? Are we, the viewers, in the position of a friend or chaperone? Should we be encouraging or dissuading a proposal? The dog’s expression is wary and its stance protective. Autumnal leaves suggest a chapter is coming to an end, but the path opening through trees on the right could signify a new direction. The ambiguity of clues in the painting fires viewers’ imaginations. One of the particular qualities of Tissot is to provide hints to possible narratives of love, longing, misunderstanding or loss which have timeless resonance for audiences.

Waiting also demonstrates Tissot’s supreme skill as a painter in oils. The deft strokes and subtle colours of autumn leaves against shimmering water and filtered sunlight vie with Impressionist paintings, and the patch of water on the right, with reflected trees and floating leaves, is a painterly tour-de-force. It recalls the water in another boating subject, On the Thames, a Heron (fig. 2, c. 1871-2, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts), painted around the same time. Tissot is thought of principally as a painter of detail; his ability to convey costume and boating minutiae can mislead people into thinking he paints meticulously with a tiny brush, whereas in reality he paints with rapid, fluent, and often broad, touches. Angled lines of blacks and greys capture the pleats of the young woman’s skirt below her cream tunic, which is edged with matching flower-patterned lace that is painted in assured quick dabs, contrasting with the tunic’s undulating and jagged strokes. The single right glove is astounding: few painters could create such a believable rendition of fine leather empty of fingers and palm.

Agnew’s recorded the receipt of Waiting from Tissot on 22 November 1873 and had found a buyer, the banker Emile Levita, by 23 January 1874 when its sale for £800 was noted. Levita appears to have changed his mind, for the painting was back with Agnew’s on 17 February. It was submitted by Tissot to the Royal Academy and was bought immediately by James Houldsworth for 700 guineas. At the Royal Academy exhibition Tissot’s other two paintings, The Ball on Shipboard (fig. 3, c.1874, oil on canvas, Tate Britain) and London Visitors (fig. 4, c.1874, oil on canvas, Toledo Museum of Art), generally received more critical attention from reviewers than Waiting, perhaps because both were more challenging in their modernity. ‘It is almost impossible for M. Tissot to paint a picture that shall not be interesting,’ remarked the Morning Post critic. ‘There is always an unconventionality about his selection of subjects that will charm the most captious of spectators, and even his most trivial pictures have an immense amount of elaborate workmanship bestowed upon them. Indeed, the success of some of his works is almost endangered by the infinite pains and the delicate finish lavished on every inch of the canvas. The Graphic’s reviewer thought Waiting Tissot’s ‘most agreeable picture this year’ despite being ‘his least ambitious’. The critic felt that the painting ‘retains some charm, and there is much neatness of execution with ingenuity of arrangement and humorous expression.’

We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for providing this catalogue entry.

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