Art/ Collection/ Art Object

In Full Sunlight (En plein soleil)

James Tissot (French, Nantes 1836–1902 Chenecey-Buillon)
ca. 1881
Oil on wood
9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (24.8 x 35.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2006
Accession Number:
Not on view
This group portrait includes the artist's companion, Kathleen Newton (1854–1882), at left; her children, Cecil George Newton (1876–1941) and Muriel Mary Violet Newton (1871–1933); and two unidentified figures. The setting appears to be Tissot's garden in St. John's Wood, London.
Tissot moved from Paris to London in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Already an Anglophile, he quickly adapted to life in Britain, earning success with elaborate and colorful contemporary costume pieces. In 1873 he purchased a house and studio at 17 Grove End Road in fashionable Saint John’s Wood. About two years later, he met the beautiful and free-spirited Kathleen Newton (1854–1882), who was eighteen years his junior. She became his mistress and muse, appearing frequently as a model in his paintings and prints.

Made about 1881, In Full Sunlight (En plein soleil) is one of numerous works that can be linked to Tissot’s relationship with Kathleen. He based the woman at left on a photograph of his companion: made at an unknown date, it shows her seated with her parasol on a lawn in a similar pose and attire (see Additional Images, fig. 1). Other photographs, now lost, may have been used for other aspects of the scene. As Lilian Hervey, Kathleen Newton’s niece, described Tissot’s practice for another picture, "Tissot got his studio assistant—a good amateur photographer—to record the scene with his camera. Later he transferred it to canvas" (quoted by Marita Ross in "The Truth about Tissot," Everybody’s Weekly, June 15, 1946, p. 7).

The resulting composition fuses photographic spontaneity with the scrupulous arrangement and emphatic forms found in Japanese woodblock prints, which Tissot greatly admired (see Wentworth 1984, p. 153). The artist also displays some of his trademark painterly effects, rendered with neat brushstrokes but dense pigments. His admirers thrilled to such details as the illusion of light passing through the translucent Japanese paper parasol, and the incomparable rendering of textiles and patterns. Painted on wood panel, the picture is exceptionally well preserved.

The children in the scene have been identified as Kathleen’s son Cecil George Newton (1876–1941) and her daughter Muriel Mary Violet Newton, known as Violet (1871–1933). The remaining figures have not yet been identified with certainty. Misfeldt (1991) saw the woman seated on the garden wall, sewing, as a second representation of Kathleen Newton, but she could also be Kathleen’s elder sister Mary Hervey (1851 or 1852–1896); this would help account for the second, slightly younger girl, who might be one of Mary’s two daughters, Isabelle (1873–1929) or Lilian (1875–1952). Like Tissot, the Herveys made their home in Saint John’s Wood; Kathleen was living with her sister when she met the artist.

Far removed from the witty images of seduction and social intercourse for which Tissot is best known, the hortus inclusus depicted in this painting seems to reflect the cozy private life that the artist hoped for or perhaps even attained. The tender domesticity that unfolds on this patch of lawn, presumably at Grove End Road, was short-lived. Kathleen died of tuberculosis on November 9, 1882, and her funeral was held on the fourteenth of that month. Tissot apparently abandoned his home and its contents and on that day left for Paris, where he stayed for five years.

The early history of this painting has not been established. Before it surfaced on the market in 1976, it was known only through an etching that Tissot made after the picture (see Additional Images, fig. 2). The artist’s own photograph of the painting, which he had inserted into albums that he kept as a record of his production, was published in Misfeldt 1982 (see Additional Images, fig. 3).

[2014; adapted from Tinterow and Miller 2005]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): J. J. Tissot
[Lenz Fine Arts, Milwaukee, until 1976; sold March 31, 1976 to Williams]; [Williams and Son, London, 1976; sold to Stair Sainty]; [Stair Sainty Gallery, London, 1976; sold to Bristol]; Marquess of Bristol, London (1976–83; sold to Stair Sainty); [Stair Sainty Gallery, London, 1983; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1983–his d. 1986); Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1986–2006)

John Williamson Palmer. A Portfolio of Autograph Etchings. Boston, 1881, p. 17, reproduces the etching, stating that "since this plate was etched, expressly for this Portfolio, the artist has completed a small but charming painting of the same subject, for an art-gallery in New York".

Willard E. Misfeldt. The Albums of James Tissot. Bowling Green, Ohio, 1982, p. 10, fig. III-31, notes that this picture was based on a photograph.

Old Master and 19th Century Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture. New York, [1983], p. 22, ill. (color), identifies the sitters as Kathleen, Muriel, and Cecil George Newton, and Mary and Lilian Hervey.

Old Master and 19th Century Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Exh. brochure, Stair Sainty Gallery. New York, 1983, p. 22, ill. (color).

Michael Wentworth. James Tissot. Oxford, 1984, pp. xiii, 151–53, colorpl. IV, notes that there is no record of its contemporary exhibition; reproduces a photograph of Kathleen Newton that served in part as a basis for this picture.

Harley Preston in James Tissot. Ed. Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz. Exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery, London. Oxford, 1984, p. 95 n. 4, p. 126, under no. 132, p. 131, reproduces the etching after this picture; notes that the painting was probably a composite of photographs.

Christopher Wood. Tissot: The Life and Work of Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836–1902. Boston, 1986, pp. 89, 157, fig. 86 (color).

Willard E. Misfeldt. J. J. Tissot: Prints from the Gotlieb Collection. Exh. cat., Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis. Alexandria, Va., 1991, p. 122, fig. 32, locates the setting as Tissot's garden, northwest of the house; identifies Kathleen [Newton] as the woman on the left side of the painting as well as the woman sewing on the ledge of the steps, with [her son] Cecil; identifies her daughter, Violet, reclining on the fur rug, and Lilian Hervey beneath the parasol.

Nancy Rose Marshall in Nancy Rose Marshall and Malcolm Warner. James Tissot: Victorian Life, Modern Love. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, Yale University. New Haven, 1999, pp. 136, 199 n. 9.

Gary Tinterow and Asher Ethan Miller in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 409–11, no. 117, ill. (color), note that this composition was known for a century through its etching before the painting surfaced in 1976; identify the children in the picture as Cecil George Newton and Muriel Mary Violet Newton; state that the woman sewing could be Kathleen Newton or her sister, Mary Hervey, and that the second girl could be either of Mary's daughters, Isabelle or Lilian; mention two etchings of about 1880–81, "'Garden-party' d'enfants" and "Sur l'herbe," that represent figural groupings that Tissot may have restaged and photographed in preparation for this picture.

Gary Tinterow in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Fall 2007), p. 47, ill. (color).

R[ichard]. S[hone]. "Supplement: Acquisitions (2000–10) of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York." Burlington Magazine 152 (December 2010), p. 840, fig. V (color).

Tissot photographed the finished painting (Misfeldt 1982, no. III-31, ill.) and also made an etching after it: In Full Sunlight (En plein soleil), 1881. Etching with drypoint in reverse sense of the painting, 7 1⁄2 × 11 3⁄4 in. (19 × 29.7 cm). See Michael Wentworth, James Tissot: Catalogue Raisonné of his Prints, exh. cat., Minneapolis and Williamstown, 1978, no. 54; hereafter cited as Wentworth 1978.

Two other etchings contain figural groupings that Tissot may have asked the sitters to restage, to be photographed for use in developing the composition of the present work:

"Garden-party” d’enfants (A Children’s Garden Party), ca. 1880–81. Drypoint, 10 × 6 1⁄4 in. (25.4 × 15.9 cm). Wentworth 1978, no. 49.

Sur l’herbe (On the Grass), ca. 1880–81. Etching with drypoint, 7 3⁄4 × 10 5⁄8 in. (19.7 × 27 cm). Wentworth 1978, no. 50. This etching is based on a lost painting.
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