Though not without a mawkish quality, this atypical work by the French painter James Tissot bespeaks an essential sincerity. The identity of the father clinging so morosely to his child is not known. They may simply have been models. The setting, however, can be identified as the garden of Tissot's London residence in St John's Wood, a property that later passed to his colleague, the 'olympian' painter Alma-Tadema. 'The widower' has the moralising overtones of a Victorian problem picture, and it may be to the English taste for such images that Tissot was deliberately appealing. His liaison with a divorcee - a woman he frequently painted and clearly adored - placed him beyond the pale of conventional society, and beyond its patronage. It is almost tempting to see Tissot himself as the widower of the title, a man unhappily denied his mate. Technically, the work is an exercise in painterly probity: Tissot's rendering of vegetation, fabric and flesh is impressive.
AGNSW Handbook, 1999.
oil on canvas
116.3 x 75.5 cm sight; 154.5 x 104.0 x 10.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l., brown oil "JJ Tissot 1876".
Gift of Sir Colin and Lady Anderson 1939
Shown in 8 exhibitions
Unknown, Grosvenor Gallery, London 1877, Grosvenor Gallery, London, England, 1877–1877
Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 1888–1888
Victorian social conscience, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Aug 1976–19 Sep 1976
Victorian Childhood, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 08 Feb 1999–19 Mar 1999
James Tissot: Victorian Life / Modern Love:
- Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 22 Sep 1999–28 Nov 1999
- Musée du Québec 15 Dec 1999–12 Mar 2000
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery, United States of America 24 Mar 2000–02 Jul 2000
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland 14 Jul 2001–11 Nov 2001
Love and death: art in the age of Queen Victoria:
J.P. Davis, 1877
John H Downes, circa 1888, by 1888, lent by Downes to the 'International exhibition' Glasgow 1888
Sir Colin and Lady Morna Anderson, pre 1939, Gift of Sir Colin and Lady Anderson 1939
Referenced in 19 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 31 (colour illus.).
Sarah Couper, Look, ‘Studio visit – Inside the Blue Mountains studio of Gallery framer David Butler’, Sydney, Sep 2017-Oct 2017, pp 64–68: p 68.
Alfred de Lostalot, Society of French Aquarellists, Paris, 1883, 372 (illus.).
Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', pg. 36-56, Sydney, 1988, 44, 48, 49 (colour illus.).
Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Sydney, 1993, 4.
Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, 198 (illus.).
Renée Free, AGNSW Collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 137 (colour illus.).
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, 40 (colour illus.).
British painting 1800–1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, 169. cat.no. 2160
James Laver, Vulgar Society. The Romantic Career of James Tissot 1836-1902, London, 1936, 38.
Nancy Rose Marshall, James Tissot: Victorian Life / Modern Love, 'In the garden', pg. 105-119, New Haven, 1999, 112, 113 (colour illus.). cat.no. 46
Love and Death: art in the age of Queen Victoria, Adelaide, 2001-2002, 132, 133 (colour illus.).
Michael Justin Wentworth, James Tissot, Oxford, 1984, 138-9. plate no. 122
Michael Justin Wentworth, James Tissot, Japan, 1988, 69. plate no. 29
Oscar Wilde., The University Magazine, Article written, Unknown, 1877, 126.
Christopher Wood, Tissot: the life and work of Jacques Joseph Tissot 1836-1902, London, 1986, 98, 100, 111.
Author Unknown, International Exhibition Glasgow, Glasgow, 1888, 130. cat.no. 2247, as lent by John H. Downes
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Times, 01 May 1877.
Victorian social conscience, Sydney, 1976. cat.no. 62