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James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, Portrait by Degas

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Therefore, beyond the importance of Tissot’s paintings as subject matter that signifies his sophistication, they contribute significant formal elements to the portrait. First, as we have seen, the choice in colors and brush technique work to honor Tissot’s process as an artist. Second, the extension of the paintings beyond the boundaries of the frame creates a very open composition. This may suggest that likewise, Tissot’s diversity of taste cannot fit within one representation. But certainly, this open composition rejects a certain contrivance that can be felt in other portraits: the cropping is so unusual that it almost appears incidental. The result is that in comparison to the portraits by other artists in this gallery, Tissot achieves a marked sense of immediacy. There is the sense that we are viewing a glimpse of a moment in the life of the real Tissot.

With Jean-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, Degas offers a reinterpretation of a traditional portrait that ultimately makes us question the boundary between portraiture and genre painting. A modern portrait not only commemorates the virtue of the sitter, but also offers an insight into his inner world, a peek into his personality.[4] How better to do this than to portray Tissot as if in a snapshot of an everyday moment, as he relaxes in his studio? As Tissot leans across his chair, his posture asserts a visual statement of quiet confidence amid a culture of art. Degas captures the candidness of this moment in both the pose and the overall composition of the studio. The final impression is of an artist who is worldly, intense and undeniably cool.


Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art, 6th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

"James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836–1902)." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 10, 2015.

Woodall, Joanna. "Introduction." In Portraiture: Facing the Subject. 1st ed. New York: Mancester University Press, 1997.

Notes from Initial Viewing (taken on phone)

- Kind of awkwardly cropped?

- Situated in an art studio- significant

- Paintings within a painting – meta-painting!

- Palate is muted and dark

- The edges are crowded by busy yet imprecise paintings - these paintings are slightly more colorful than the rest of the room, the brushwork is

“sloppy” (intentionally, obviously…why?)… comment on reality vs. representation?

- Dark brown floor- grey green walls- these neutral tones seem typical of most portraiture

- Another interesting thing is that in many portraits we cannot see a clear horizon- the distinction between the air and the atmosphere is ambiguous, perhaps suggested by the color fading into another- here we do not have a clear horizon either

- The painting is roughly divided into thirds- repeating angles and corners of the frames

- One frame faces away from us- we only see its back

- Many little specks of white - they look like brush strokes

- The figure is smaller than in most portraits. Full-length figure not three quarters or bust

- His pose is very casual - seems to stay with the convention of having the body turned sideways and face forward - this is actually quite salient since the figure is actually sitting on the chair (which itself is nearly fully frontal)

- His arm is slung over the chair- his other is on the table - he pose seems confident- he is not afraid to take up space

- The outline of the figure is rough- it seems to bleed into the background

- His face is much brighter than anything else in the frame - it seems alive with its pinkish tones- especially his forehead is very bright - his head is tilted slightly

- He is reclined but not slumped

- One hand - the one that holds his cane (a slender elegant line that may work to counteract how he is relaxed in his chair) - this cane is poised rather deliberately between his two fingers- the hand is more grey than his face but has a pinkness a - it in contrast to the blackness of the jacket that draped over him- this hand is much more detailed than the other- he doesn't even distinguish the fingers on the other hand

- Even his shirt and his pants seem to blend into each other, the boundary between them blurred

- His jawline is emphasizes by a shadow cast on the lower right side of his face

- The floor doesn't have any lines but there are subtle white splotches throughout it, especially around his feet

- White speck inside top hat, by right hand, under his bow tie, largest one is on the chair

- Portrait of Frederick the Wise is center of the frame (central vertical axis) - his skin is much greyer however than the main figure (Tissot)

- The pastel blue of the background of the portrait draws our eyes to it- it is the only figure in the background paintings that is identifiable - what does this comparison mean?

- The black jacket he wears does not seem to reflect any light - what effect does this create?

- His cape on the desk has many subtle wrinkles of shadow and light - here the brushstroke are totally invisible - not impressionistic at all

- The figure is closely surrounded by the paintings yet none are directly behind him- he stands out amongst the neutral grey tone of the wall

- Naturalistic face - subtle shadow by his nose, - his features are defined - his hair does not seem to have any light coming off of it either

- The other paintings are all overlapping and also not in full view - they go out into the space around them - the setting (according to the label) reveals a pride in Tissot’s tastes - I think having them coming out of the frame makes showing them less boastful- they exist rather matter of factly, almost as if they are beside the point

- Intimacy of friendship (top hat off, cape draped, pose) – yet his clothing is still formal

- The frame of the small portrait is very detailed,


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