The University Record, February 7, 1994

Tissot exhibition at Museum drawn from private collection

“James Tissot: Prints from the Aldrich Collection,” an exhibition of 45 etchings and mezzotints from the collection of Ann Arbor residents Robert and Katherine Aldrich, is on view through March 6 at the Museum of Art.

Organized by co-curators William Hennessey and John Siewert, the exhibition provides a comprehensive overview of the graphic work of the Franco-Anglo painter and printmaker James (Jacques Joseph) Tissot (1836–1902).

It includes examples of his compositions inspired by Japanese prints as well as complete ensembles of “La femme a Paris” and “The Prodigal Son,” a modern-life recasting of the biblical parable.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum has published a gallery guide co-authored by Hennessey and Siewert. Free, hour-long Sunday tours of the exhibition will be given at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 and Feb. 27.

“Over the past 25 years, scholarly and popular attention to what has been called ‘the other 19th century’ has renewed interest in the art of a number of figures who worked outside and on the fringes of the Impressionist circle,” says Hennessey, who is director of the Museum of Art.

“Perhaps no artist has benefited more from this move toward revisionism than James Tissot, who began his career in France but moved to London during the Commune of the early 1870s and established himself as a successful painter of genre scenes and fashionable society. His work in graphic media explores many of the same themes as his paintings, presenting an imagery whose dazzling surfaces and complex spatial constructions are frequently put to the service of an unsettling psychological content,” Hennessey adds.

Tissot’s work “took on a more intimate tone around 1876, inspired by the central event of his London period, when Kathleen Newton, a young Irish divorcee, came to live with him,” Hennessey says.

The U-M exhibition includes one particularly poignant illustration that Tissot modeled on a photograph of himself with Newton. The image, Hennessey says, “captures the artist’s tender concern for the woman, whose health was declining.”

Several of Tissot’s most elaborate late prints were done in mezzotint, and they “mark the emergence in his art of a stylized, elongated figural type whose artifice complements the dramatic and somewhat unnatural appearance of the tonalities he obtained in this demanding graphic process,” Hennessey notes.

Hennessey says that “the outstanding collection of Tissot prints assembled by Robert and Katherine Aldrich is widely considered to be among the finest and most complete in private hands.” The couple first began collecting Tissot’s graphic work in the late 1960s, after Katherine Aldrich “discovered” the artist’s work while taking a U-M course on 19th-century art.