Jaques Tissot was born in 1836, at Nantes a French Seaport. He was always interested in things nautical and this can be seen in the accuracy of the rigging and ship scenes that he later painted. His father was a successful shopkeeper and a devout Roman Catholic and Jaques was sent to a Jesuit school. His father was not at all happy with Jacques choice of career, but he did eventually relent.
He was able to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1856, where he met and became friends with James McNeill Whistler. He changed is name to James in order to draw interest to himself. He had learned the business of trading from his father and used this experience to sell his works. He traveled extensively plying his craft and surviving well, especially among the wealthy English patrons, and even exhibited at the Royal Academy. He returned to Paris and with the outbreak of war (Franco-Prussian War) fled to England in 1871 where he had many friends. James was hard working and shrewd and quickly became a success in London. His paintings were of excellent quality, but sometimes controversial – this probably assisted in sales rather than the reverse. Many paintings were of women in unbelievably beautiful costumes. The famous art critic John Ruskin was particularly indifferent and called his paintings “mere photographs of vulgar society”. His French friends were envious of his success in England. He lived life to the fullest.
In 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that James Tissot had “a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing and shining the shrubbery leaves”.
He met Kathleen Newton and Irish divorcee with two children and a colorful past. She was his model and mistress, and together they inspired each other. James and Kathleen lived as man and wife but within a few years her health started to decline and in 1882, she cheated consumption by committing suicide. Throughout this time James remained totally committed to her.
James was heartbroken and within a week left the house and never returned. He did not marry or have any more long term relationships. He dabbled in Spiritualism and tried to contact Kathleen. He moved to Paris and continued the style that had been so successful for him in London but it was not so successful in Paris. He had a “religious experience” and became extremely devout and began painting religious scenes.
He died in 1902 in Bullion.