Early Success in London
At the 1874 Royal Academy exhibition in London, French-born painter James Tissot has three paintings on display, including one titled ‘Waiting‘, or ‘In the Shallows‘. Fans of Tissot’s earlier works will immediately recognize this setting with a “mature chestnut tree overhanging a pool,” (Christie’s)
Painted at the height of James Tissot’s early London success, ‘Waiting’ combines a number of the artist’s favorite elements – a boat on shimmering water, autumnal chestnut leaves, a pug dog, and a young woman in beautifully detailed fashionable dress – with the enigmatic hints of narrative clues that have made Tissot a favorite with audiences worldwide.
As described by the Graphic’s art critic when the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, ‘Waiting’ ‘contains one figure only – a young lady seated in a pleasure-boat: the first, probably, of a pair of lovers to arrive at the place of assignation.’ But look closely and you will see that the story is not quite so simple. (Christie’s)
There is Mystery Afoot!
Because of Tissot’s placement of the boat in ‘Waiting’, “the viewer is placed within the craft itself, at the opposite end to the young woman.” Her enigmatic gaze is directed up and to the right, as if looking for or at a third person. “She looks away and only the dog looks directly at the viewer.” (Christie’s)
One glove lies in front of her, while her right hand is both gloveless and ringless. Christie’s writes, “The single right glove lies on the thwart and gapes open towards the right, on a blue-spotted and striped white towel.”
Pertinent Questions Remain
Christie’s continues by asking these questions of the viewer:
- Has the suitor removed the young woman’s glove in preparation for a proposal, or is it she who has removed a glove in expectation, or even ‘thrown down the gauntlet’ in challenge?
- Are we, the viewers, in the position of a friend or chaperone?
- Should we be encouraging or dissuading a proposal?
When in Doubt, Ask the Dog
The pug’s gaze is the only one directed at the viewer, and its “expression is wary and its stance [is] protective”, so neither I nor the young woman in the boat should relax quite yet.
Christie’s offers some other possible clues, writing,
“Autumnal leaves suggest a chapter is coming to an end, but the path opening through trees on the right could signify a new direction.”
However, Tissot apparently likes this open-ended narrative because “the ambiguity of clues in the painting fires viewers’ imaginations.” Christie’s continues,“One of the particular qualities of Tissot is to provide hints to possible narratives of love, longing, misunderstanding or loss which have timeless resonance for audiences”.
NO, I still trust the dog.
I think the woman’s expression and body language,
along with the autumnal setting,
signify an ending, if not an
(admittedly an expert at nothing)
In Detail: Master of Technique
‘Waiting’ also demonstrates Tissot’s supreme skill as a painter in oils. The deft strokes and subtle colours of autumn leaves against shimmering water and filtered sunlight vie with Impressionist paintings, and the patch of water on the right, with reflected trees and floating leaves, is a painterly tour-de-force…
Tissot is thought of principally as a painter of detail; his ability to convey costume and boating minutiae can mislead people into thinking he paints meticulously with a tiny brush, whereas in reality he paints with rapid, fluent, and often broad, touches. Angled lines of blacks and greys capture the pleats of the young woman’s skirt below her cream tunic, which is edged with matching flower-patterned lace that is painted in assured quick dabs, contrasting with the tunic’s undulating and jagged strokes. The single right glove is astounding: few painters could create such a believable rendition of fine leather empty of fingers and palm. (Christie’s)
Click For Enlarged Detail:
- James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
- Waiting (also known as In the Shallows)
- signed ‘J J Tissot’ (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 22 x 31 in. (55.9 x 78.8 cm.)
- Source: Christie’s
- Link: https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/james-joseph-tissot-waiting-5807496-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5807496&sid=aea0dd13-66a5-487d-9f80-304c17f332f2
- Note that all quotes are from the Christie’s Lot Essay, They credit Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for providing this catalogue entry.
- James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), Waiting (also known as In the Shallows), signed ‘J J Tissot’ (lower left), oil on canvas, 22 x 31 in. (55.9 x 78.8 cm.), Source: Christie’s
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