A new acquisition for the National Gallery of Canada goes on permanent display today. The Partie Carrée (1870), by renowned French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) joins two other Tissot works in the collection, enriching the Gallery’s important holdings from the French Second Empire period (1852-70). Purchased privately from the Estate of David R. Graham, The Partie Carrée has been exhibited publicly only twice—including its world premiere at the Paris Salon in 1870.
“The Partie Carrée ranks among the most refined and ambitious works from Tissot’s first Paris period,” says Anabelle Kienle Poňka, Acting Senior Curator of European and American art. “A masterpiece of his Directoire series, it embodies references to history and art history with visual intelligence, wit and humour. Large in scale and exquisitely painted, it is also an important example of the era’s penchant for genre scenes that take a historic, revisionist approach to their subject matter, and that offer commentary on modern life.”
James Tissot (1836-1902) was among the most prominent, successful and critically acclaimed artists of his generation who was widely admired by his contemporaries. Active in France and Britain, Jacques Joseph Tissot, anglicized as James Tissot, was celebrated for his depictions of scenes of contemporary urban life, its social conventions and changing fashions. His work is both traditional and modern, drawing on the achievements of the avant-garde – he counted Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas as friends – on new technologies such as photography, and on popular imagery.
First exhibited in the 1870 Paris Salon, Tissot’s The Partie Carrée (1870), also known as The Foursome, shows two couples enjoying a decadent meal by a river in a park. Tissot, son of a milliner mother and linen draper father, excelled in the treatment of fashionable clothes. The costumes in The Partie Carrée evoke Directoire France of 1795–99 – the period between the violence of the revolutionary Terror and Napoleon’s empire. While set in the past, the painting hints at modern concerns: for Tissot and his contemporaries, the Directoire’s hedonism, as well as the radical changes in the social order it witnessed, seemed to foreshadow Tissot’s present-day France. Contemporary critics saw the painting as modern in another sense: its style showed the painter’s ties to the avant-garde. Tissot’s canvas seems to have been his response to his friend Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, which generated much controversy when it was exhibited in 1863 in Paris.
Greatly revered by fellow artists, including Vincent van Gogh, who described Tissot in 1880 as “great, immense, infinite” in a letter to his brother Theo, Tissot’s contribution to the canon of French 19th century art is due for a re-exploration. A major retrospective of James Tissot’s work will be held in 2019 and 2020, co-organized by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris.
Just in time for the re-opening of the newly refurbished and installed 19th century galleries, The Partie Carrée will go on public view Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 (Room C 212). The painting will complement two other major works by the artist: The Letter (1878), which was purchased in 1964, and Woman with a Japanese Scroll (c.1872), on long-term loan from a private Canadian collection, both painted during the artist’s later London period. The acquisition will provide the viewer insight into James Tissot’s multifaceted career and offer the most comprehensive display of the artist’s works in Canada.
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