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James Tissot: Painter of the Belle Epoque  

Timed to coincide with the exhibit James Tissot: Fashion and Faith at the Legion of Honor, October 12, 2019-February 9, 2020, this course examines the life and work of Tissot, a successful painter of Parisian society who fled to London during the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War. Living in the British capital, he created images of elegantly dressed English women in scenes of everyday life. Returning to France after 11 years in England, he painted a series depicting fashionable Parisian women before devoting the remainder of his life to illustrating the Bible. Week 1: Tissot’s early life in France: childhood in Nantes, artistic education in Paris, the influence of Japanese art and Tissot’s critical and financial success as a painter of society portraits and modern Parisian life. Week 2: Tissot and the Franco-Prussian War. Historical background and images documenting the conflict. French artists such as Tissot, Monet, Pissarro and Sisley who fled to London to escape the hostilities were drawn to depict the modern city, incorporating its distinctive architectural and topographical elements in their paintings and capturing its unique atmosphere and transitory quality of light. Week 3: Tissot—An expatriate in London. Immersing himself in the local scene, he captured the customs and couture of the nouveaux riches, often with the Thames as a backdrop. Many of his paintings, prints and watercolors reflecting contemporary domestic English life featured his Irish muse and companion Kathleen Newton. Week 4: Tissot—Return to France. After Newton’s death in 1882, he returned to Paris and created a series of fifteen large paintings depicting the lives of fashionable Parisian women. The series, La Femme à Paris, was exhibited to great acclaim in Paris and London in 1886. Week 5: Tissot—Biblical Illustrations. Experiencing a revival of his Catholic faith, after 1885 he abandoned secular subjects, traveling three times to the Holy Land to record the landscape, architecture, costumes and customs in pursuit of topographical and archaeological accuracy as preparation for series illustrating the Old and New Testaments. Week 6: Tissot—Old and New Testament watercolors. After laboring for eight years, he published 350 watercolors depicting the life of Christ. The images were well received in Europe and North America and the set was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum in 1900. He then worked on a series illustrating fourteen Old Testament Books of the Bible, exhibiting many of them in Paris in 1901, a year before his death.

 

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