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The Art of JAMA
May 28, 2014

The Ball on ShipboardJames Tissot

JAMA. 2014;311(20):2048-2049. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279516

The nouveau riche and the chic Parisians who people the paintings of James Tissot (1836-1902) take on a life of their own once they appear on canvas, so vividly rendered are their insouciant selves, and their stories provide delightful episodes of 19th-century soap opera. Although the narratives painted by Tissot would on occasion stir the Victorian status quo, they could not match the dramas that made up his own colorful, unpredictable life.

Tissot’s childhood did not presage any such excitement, as he was born in Nantes, France, to a father who dealt in draperies, and a mother who was a millinery designer. His mère had deep religious convictions that would in time profoundly affect Tissot’s artistic journey. Tissot was no doubt exposed to the hustle and bustle of the busy Nantes harbor, and nautical backdrops would make an appearance in many a future waterscape.

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