Master Paintings of James Tissot

Celebrating the elegant life … with dogs.
By Nancy Rose Marshall, June 2013, Updated November 2020
James Tissot: Young Lady in a Boat

Young Lady in a Boat, 1870 Oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm Private collection

Like many 19th-century painters of modern life, French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) frequently depicted the new, more intimate relationships between dogs and their owners. During this period, people increasingly believed that animals and humans had similar emotional and intellectual responses, and the bond between pet-keepers and pets was foregrounded in new ways.

Tissot, an avant-garde painter associated with Edgar Degas, portrayed a wide range of dog types with great charm, affectionate understanding and skill throughout his career. Indeed, he must have owned a number of dogs, as particular animals appear repeatedly in his pictures.

A painting from Tissot’s French period, Young Lady in a Boat (1870), represents a woman in the fashionable costume of the early 19th century, accompanied by a Pug. This toy breed was a sign of wealth and status. Here, it has the slightly longer legs and snout that were typical until later in the 19th century, when the dogs began being bred for the pushed-in faces popular today. The woman’s gaze suggests that she is on a romantic rendezvous, and indeed, an alternative title for the picture—Adrift—implies that she could potentially lose her moral compass as well. Clearly, her Pug is keeping a watchful eye on her!

Portrait of the Marquis and Marchioness of Miramon and their children, 1865 Oil on canvas, 177 x 217 cm Musée d’Orsay

Portrait of the Marquis and Marchioness of Miramon and their children (1865) depicts an affluent, aristocratic French family on the terrace of their chateau. As a sign of his importance in the family, their Flat-Coated Retriever poses with them. Tongue lolling, he pants as though he has just returned from a hunting expedition with his master, who holds a riding crop. This breed was commonly used by gamekeepers, and its English origin suggests the fashionable Anglophilic taste of the Miramons as well as of the artist, who by 1859 had Anglicized his name from Jacques to James.

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Croquet, 1878 Oil on canvas, 88.9 x 50.8 cm Art Gallery of Hamilton and The Hammock, 1878 Oil on canvas, 127 x 72.2 cm

After becoming well known in Paris, Tissot moved to London in 1871, where he built a thriving career as a painter of contemporary scenes of fashionable society. He included dogs in a number of works set in his own back garden. Croquet (1878) portrays three girls idly engaged in the game, guarded by a white Spitz of the sort that eventually became the American Eskimo dog. Affectionate creatures known to be good with children, their alert intelligence also made them useful as watchdogs.

Quiet, 1881 Oil on canvas, 27 x 36 cm Private collection

The similarly peaceful The Hammock (1880) and Quiet (c. 1881) represent Kathleen Newton, the divorced Irish beauty who was Tissot’s mistress and primary model from around 1876 to 1882; tragically, at 28, she died of tuberculosis. In The Hammock, Kathleen, shaded by a fashionable Japanese-style parasol, relaxes with a novel. In the background is the reflecting pool and cast-iron arcade Tissot had copied from that in the Parc Monceau in Paris, bringing a small touch of his former home with him to London. Echoing Kathleen’s black-and-white outfit, the dog’s striking coat is set against verdant green as he lies sleeping in the heat, perhaps exhausted from playing with the nearby ball. Like the dog in Quiet, he is an example of the type that became known as the Border Collie. Tissot must have owned at least one of these dogs with Kathleen, as they appear in numerous canvases from this period. In Quiet, Kathleen again reads, perhaps to the slightly bored and fidgety little girl who squirms by her side, with the dog protectively resting his paw over her waist.

Such images suggest the ways in which dogs became a vital and even indispensable part of the satisfactions of modern domestic life.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 74: Summer 2013
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Nancy Rose Marshall is professor of 19th-century European art history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she specializes in the visual culture of Victorian Britain. She authored the exhibition catalogue James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love and recently completed City of Gold and Mud: Painting Victorian London (2012).