James Tissot (1836-1902), known also as 'Coïdé' Though best known as the French painter of English society, James Tissot also produced insightful caricatures. These appeared in Vanity Fair, under the name ‘Coïdé’, in the period from 1869 to 1873, alongside those of ‘Ape’ and before the arrival of ‘Spy’.
The second of four sons of a prosperous linen merchant, James Tissot was born in Nantes, on the River Loire, on 15 October 1836. He was educated at Jesuit colleges in Brugelette, Belgium; Vannes, Brittany; and Dôle, Franche-Comté. He considered becoming an architect and then an artist. Moving to Paris by 1856, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, under Louis Lamothe and Hippolyte Flandrin.
While there, he befriended James McNeill Whistler and Edgar Degas. Exhibiting at the Paris Salon from 1859 and at the Royal Academy, London, from 1864, he soon abandoned mediaeval subjects in favour of the elegant, polished, often complex, contemporary scenes for which he is best known. In 1869, he also began to produce his first caricatures for Thomas Gibson Bowles’s society paper, Vanity Fair, signing them ‘Coïdé’, ‘perhaps because they were a collaboration between Bowles’s notions and Tissot’s draughtsmanship, thus “co-idée”’(Richard Thomson, in Anna Gruetzner Robins and Richard Thomson, Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec. London and Paris 1870-1910, London: Tate, 2005, page 20).
Following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Tissot fought in the defence of Paris, but fled to London a year later. Through the auspices of Bowles, he made many professional and social connections, and his work gained rapid popularity. He lived openly with his Irish mistress, Kathleen Newton, in a house in Grove End Road, St John’s Wood. However, this sojourn came to an end in 1882 when, having contracted tuberculosis, she committed suicide. He returned to France, and soon turned to religion, both as a way of life and a subject for his art. He even made two visits to the Holy Land, in 1886-87 and 1889, which inspired a large series of watercolour illustrations of the Bible. On 8 August 1902, he died at the Château de Buillon, Doubs, Franche- Comté, which he had inherited from his father in 1888.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery and Tate; Musée d’Orsay; and Brooklyn Museum (New York) and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Further reading: Willard E Misfeldt, ‘Tissot, James [Jacques-Joseph] (b Nantes, 15 Oct 1836, d Château de Buillon, Doubs, 8 Aug 1902)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 31, pages 29-31; Michael Wentworth, James Tissot, Oxford University Press, 1984