11 January 2011

The Artist and the Muse: James Tissot and Mrs. Kathleen Newton

French painter Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) took the Anglicized first name James after meeting James McNeil Whistler. Known for his paintings of fashionable women and his later religious studies, Tissot studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Ingres, Flandrin, and Lamothe. His friendships included fellow painters Degas and Manet. Tissot left Paris to live in London because of his alleged evolvement in the Paris Commune of 1871. It was in London he met Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly Newton (1854-1882) who would become his muse, model and mistress.

Mrs. Newton was a hauntingly beautiful Irish Catholic divorcee who had spent her childhood in Lahore and Agra. The family moved to London when her father, an Irish army officer retired. Charles Frederick Ashburnham Kelly betrothed his stunning seventeen year old daughter to a surgeon in India, Dr. Isaac Newton. On her voyage to India, Captain Palliser unsuccessfully tried to seduce her. She confessed this to her husband on their wedding night who considered her damaged goods. The marriage was not consummated and Newton divorced her. Mrs. Newton's passage back to England was paid by Palliser who as compensation insisted she become his mistress. Although she became pregnant, she refused to marry him and she and her daughter went to live with her sister in St. John's Wood.

Tissot's paintings which depicted an ephemeral world of elegant women in glamorous settings, feature Mrs. Newton as the model. She moved into his household in St. John's Wood in 1876 and bore him a son. It was an ideal life that Tissot described as "domestic bliss" until she contracted tuberculosis. At the age of twenty-eight, in the last stages of the disease Mrs. Newton chose to take an overdose of laudanum. After losing his "delightful Irish", Tissot left London and eventually the material world he showed in his paintings. Turning to religion and spirituality he traveled to Palestine where he illustrated The Life of Christ. In Tissot's The Annunciation, the face of the Angel Annunciate bears a likeness to his beloved muse, Mrs. Newton.


  1. How Kathleen suffered before knowing a little happiness at the end of her short life. xa

  2. Tissot is one of my favorite painters for his material world. This is a ideal summary of his life and connections, perfectly put with details and not one word too many.

  3. Gretchen, you and I do have the same taste! I have always loved Tissot for his beautifully costumed women who had an air of sadness about them. It's as if he foresaw Mrs. Newton's fate. I find it interesting that some people only value his religious works. Best, Kendra

  4. Alaine, At least Kathleen always lived her short life on her own terms which is amazing for the times. Best, Kendra

  5. I have loved his Christian illustrations since I first heard of them. They are in sharp contrast to his glamorous paintings (which of course I love). This radical difference has always puzzled me, now you have answered the question. I recently posted a somewhat similar topic, the material-vulgar word vs. the world of truth-beauty; in this case St. Anthony of the Desert. Fun to be on the "same page ' with you, but not at all surprising.
    As always,

  6. Carole Carbonella13 January, 2011 09:16

    Very dear cousin, I very much enjoy your "finds" in art....some very familiar and many new (to me) images. I suppose you watched last night the speech the President gave. He was so good. Can it influence the rabble in this country to civil discourse? That beautiful child! Lots of love, cccc

  7. Fascinating post, Kendra. This would make a wonderful novel and how venal of Newton and Palliser. Those in the portraits do seem to have an interior life, and your post brings them to life.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  8. He's very talented and I truly love his art and creations!


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