Medium: Oil on paper, laid down on panel
Size: 60.96 x 24.13 cm
This painting is of Tissot’s beloved mistress, Kathleen Newton, whom he is reputed to have met in 1875. She bore him a son, Cecil George, in 1878, and died four years later from consumption. Tissot never quite recovered from her death, immortalizing her in numerous canvases that replicate her likeness from paintings made while she was still alive.
This oil on paper is one of those, denoting contentment and a tenderness of observation. Newton’s silhouette is bathed with light, and she appears weightless; an effect corroborated by the lighting from the back of the figure. Around 1875-77 Tissot was experimenting with figures placed against the light, exploring the subtle contrasts of light and shade and the rich intensity of sun-filled colours.
The composition is also worthy of interest: with the prominence of one figure beside large foreground plants and the contrast of light and shade, it recalls the features of Japanese woodblock prints. Like his fellow friends Whistler and Moore, Tissot avidly collected and studied Japanese art.
The choice of the dress, Newton’s favourite, also enables the painter to showcase his virtuoso handling of light. Indeed, the suggested layers of muslin folds and the brightness of the satin reflecting the sunlight are evidence of his mastery. His ability to replicate sartorial detail was already noted then, earning him a reputation for recording fashion.
Tissot’s life and art were both impacted greatly by the loss of Kathleen. He returned to Paris and embarked on a large-scale modern-life series depicting chic Parisian women. He subsequently became interested in religion, and travelled to the Holy Land; his depictions of the Life of Christ and stories from the Old Testament won him international repute.