Portrait depicts Kathleen Newton, Tissot’s Irish muse, and is on display from October 1
A striking portrait by French artist, James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902), from the estate of Dr John Newton, has been allocated to National Museums NI, through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme with the support of major grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Department for Communities, and with the assistance of Christie’s.
The painting will be on display at Ulster Museum from Tuesday 5 October when Tissot’s Mysterious Irish Muse: New Acquisitions exhibition opens to the public. Quiet’s subject, Kathleen Newton, was the inspiration for some of Tissot’s most famous paintings and he frequently celebrated her Irish ancestry, titling one painting Mavoureen (Irish for ‘my beloved’) and another La Belle Irlandaise (the beautiful Irish girl).
Born in Agra, India, to Irish parents, Kathleen Newton’s story involves an arranged marriage, seduction, single motherhood and life in London as Tissot’s mistress and muse. In this portrait, Kathleen is depicted as an elegant young woman, looking up at us from her book with an air of self-confidence and independence. Seated with her niece in the sunlit garden of Tissot’s house in St. John’s Wood, London, she engages us directly with her gaze.
The acquisition of Quiet significantly strengthens the Ulster Museum’s collection of major 19th century European paintings.
Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, said: “It is always a cause for celebration when new works of art enter our collection as it is vitally important for art galleries and museums to continue to collect. New acquisitions keep our collections alive and encourage us to look at familiar work with fresh eyes. We look forward to welcoming the public to view Tissot’s Quiet on display at Ulster Museum. It’s a magnificent piece of art that captures the character of an interesting Irish woman and is sure to captivate viewers.”
Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art at National Museums NI, said: “It is fantastic to have such an important portrait by Tissot entering the collection. We look forward to sharing it with Ulster Museum visitors so that they can enjoy and learn more about Tissot and his Irish muse, Kathleen Newton. Tissot was one of the most famous artists in Paris and London during the 1860s and 1870s, best-known for his depictions of leisured life and fashionable female costume. Interestingly, on closer observation, his magnificently dressed society women also appear to question the rules and behaviour of the world they inhabit.”
Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said: “I am delighted to announce that this painting, known as Quiet, by James Tissot has been acquired by Ulster Museum through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. In his day Tissot had the ability to shock the public with uncompromising pictures such as this of his mistress, Kathleen Newton, though always done with refinement and technical skill. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the scheme to find a place for great art in our national collections.”
Lord Mendoza, Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal said: “The Acceptance in Lieu scheme exists to save renowned works for the public. Tissot is an important and striking painter and I am delighted that, following the challenges of the pandemic, Ulster Museum has been able to continue to develop its collections and use the power of art to connect with people.”
Dr Simon Thurley CBE, Chair, The National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “We are delighted to have supported the acquisition of James Tissot’s Quiet with a grant of £90,000. The National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to safeguard some of our finest heritage at risk of loss, and thanks to our support, Quiet and the fascinating story behind its subject Kathleen Newtown will be preserved for Ulster Museum visitors to explore for years to come. It joins the many hundreds of important and much-loved treasures that can be seen and enjoyed across the UK thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.”
The exhibition Tissot’s Mysterious Irish Muse: New Acquisitions displays ‘Quiet’ alongside paintings and drawings by Rossetti, Lavery and Orpen in which women appear as artist’s muse, society beauty or as young women living a more fragile existence on the margins of conventional society. The exhibition also includes two recent gifts to the collection, Moses Striking the Rock by Hendrik van Balen (1575-1632), supported by the Art Fund, and a pastel by Francis Cotes (1726-1770).
For more information on National Museums NI art collections and to pre-book a visit to Tissot’s Mysterious Irish Muse: New Acquisitions exhibition, visit nmni.com. Admission is free.