A Remarkable Man: James Jacques Tissot

Jacques Joseph Tissot was born October 15, 1836 in Nantes, France. Nantes is a beautiful city on the Loire with a rich heritage and has been touted as the Venice of the West.

Jacques’s parents were successful business people.  His father, Marcel Théodore, operated a drapery business while his mother, Marie Durand, was a milliner. Both were devout Roman Catholics which had a profound influence on Jacques and his future vocation.

Growing up, he watched the ships coming and going with their cargo.  The ordinary life as well as the more well-to-do in society caught his careful eye.

His road of life took him to Paris.  It was there he met the American artist James McNeill Whistler.  Jacques began going by James because of his admiration of the American artist.

The Artist’s Ladies

James became a man about town, as O. Henry would say.  He became involved with the social stratum of Paris and, unfortunately, with politics.

He had to leave his beloved Paris in 1871 because of the suspicions and rumors concerning his political views on the Franco-Prussian War.  He settled in London where he gained favor and patrons.

The Thames

In London he studied life along the Thames.  He especially appreciated the English women with their fashionable array based on their social station.

It was in the early 1870s that he met a young woman, Kathleen Newton, who would serve as his primary model and lover.  Unfortunately, Kathleen developed tuberculosis. As James watched, his Mavourneen (Irish for my beloved) suffering and becoming addicted to laudanum.  Eventually, she succumbed to the malady in November 1882 by taking her life.

Being an Irish Catholic she was not allowed to be buried in the sacred ground of the church cemetery.  This was the last injurious act done to this 28-year-old single mother of two.

James could not bear the grief of being in London without his beloved Mavourneen.  He returned to Paris and continued his search for the meaning of life on this planet traversing the cosmos.

In his last years he returned to his childhood faith and devoted his painting talents to depictions from the Old and New Testaments.  Perhaps, in his grief and search for life’s meaning, he came to believe that his God would have a place for his Mavourneen in the life to come since her church did not on earth


Jacques Joseph Tissot lived his life with all of its joys and sorrows.  He experienced the grief of losing someone which torn his heart with an agony that he would take to his grave on August 8, 1902.

His legacy can be seen in his paintings.  They speak of a time and place removed from us, but their depictions still touch the core of what it is to live with the human limitations of mortality.  His footprints on the sands of time will not soon fade.

G. D. Williams       © 2012

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Kathleen Mavourneen