The Banc de jardin (fig. 1), arguably the masterpiece of Tissot's final years in London, was exhibitedfor the first time in 1883. In many ways, it represents a summation of Tissot's London work as the large scale conversation pieces of his early years gave way to more intimate works devoted to domestic life in his home and garden at Grove End Road, St. John's Wood.
The impulse for this change of style came from Tissot's romantic liaison with Kathleen Newton. Their relationship, chronicled in a series of tender and passionate portraits, lasted from 1876 until her untimely death from consumptiom just seven years later at the age of twenty-eight. Katheleen's medical condition dictated that she spend as much time outdoors as possible. Tissot often chose to depict her resting in the garden of his home, frequently in the company of her two children, Violet and Cecil George, and her niece Lilian Hervey (fig.2).
The present work, with its rich, improvisatory handling and fully resolved composition, is the only known preliminary painting for the exhibited work and was in all likelihood executed from life, before Kathleen became too ill to sit. The larger work may well have been worked up from the present picture following Kathleen's death and after Tissot's distraught return to Paris.