(remXIX) James Tissot, I love you

January 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

I took half a day off on Friday to go and see the exhibition L’impressionisme et la Mode [Impressionism and Fashion] in Orsay. It was a fantastic exhibition and I’m happy I managed to see it before its end, yesterday. More than the paintings and the costumes I had already expected to find there, I was delighted to see literature was used as a hyphen between both domains. You were welcomed with a quote by Huysmans: “Le peintre moderne est un excellent couturier” – meaning: The modern painter is an excellent dressmaker. That is what the whole exhibition was trying to prove: that impressionist painters were as good, if not better (Ingres’ example) than dressmakers themselves.

What I enjoyed were the quotations from Zola’s Au bonheur des Dames, Baudelaire’s Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne and Balzac’s Traité de la Vie Elégante. It made me dive again into what I have been so passionate about: fashion in the 19th century. It also made me rediscover the art of James Tissot, whose paintings, I must say, had fallen into the abyss of my mind for a while. Actually, before last Friday, I couldn’t remember anything but the scene of the onboard-ball, because it reminds me so much of the first chapter in Flaubert’s L’Education Sentimentale. Anyway.


What struck me was how, once in Orsay on Friday, I literally died for James Tissot’s paintings. Although I had come expecting a lot of Manet – and a lot of Manet there was – I soon realised I was fascinated by the precision in Tissot’s paintings. So I stared at Le Cercle de la Rue Royale for ages, and also at the foldings in the dress of the woman standing next to the Marquis de Miramon.



While I am writing, a distant memory seems to come back to me: when I was a child, I had been bewitched by the beauty of the detail in a yellow dress – a bright yellow dress worn by a woman going to a ball. You know what I mean don’t you? I’m exactly referring to Tissot’s Le Bal. Back then, I didn’t even know what impressionism was or who Tissot was. And let alone that I would be studying the 19th century 10 years later. It is very hard to believe in coincidences sometimes. I remain convinced that there exists something born inside you that makes you love one thing, one day. And later, without necessarily being aware of it, you will keep looking for the means to complete the picture for the rest of your life – and this quest will end with the end of your time. The more I grow up, the more I realize my soul belongs to that period. Maybe I used to live in that time in a previous life… Maybe I did admire Tissot’s paintings with my own eyes.


James Tissot, I love you.


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