04.07.2019 in Art

The Circle of the Rue Royale

James Tissot was a French painter of Italian lineage who lived and worked in Britain for a large part of his life. His father was a highly successful clothing and apparel merchant, while his mother was a hat designer. His upbringing as a staunch catholic in a fashion-conscious household had profound effects on his paintings. His multiple nationality and wide travel also enabled him to incorporate features of fashion from different backgrounds in his paintings. Born in 1836, Tissot studied Fine Arts in Paris between 1856 and 1858, after that he produced a number of works. His painting was briefly interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war, in which he fought. Tissot’s paintings have been classified into three groups. Works that belong to the first group are his early paintings in Paris that depicted scenes from the medieval times, mainly from the play Faust of the German playwright Johann von Goethe and were inspired by Henri Leys, the Belgian painter and his mentor. His mature paintings that belong to the second group were done in London. They almost exclusively dealt with contemporary fashion, in which he made great success. His works of the third group were centered on Catholic themes. From 1876, Tissot lived with Kathleen Newton, whom he met in London, up to the time of her death in 1882.

He depicted her in many of his paintings. Throughout history, very few painters have been as accurate and clear in depicting the image of the high society of that time as Tissot was. His paintings that were exhibited in Paris, London and later New York portrayed fashion that was of an international appeal. The ladies in his paintings reflect the latest milieu of the French, Spanish, and even Japanese fashion, while the gentlemen accompanying them depict the life of the upper society in London and Paris as they take part in balls, country outings and boating parties. His paintings will forever remain an embalmment of Europe’s upper society. His work seems to be the exact opposite of works of social realism, but with a similar effect in that it lays bare the whole lives of real people depicted in single painting to the critical viewer. The Circle of the Rue Royale is one of the few paintings in which Tissot exclusively depicted the fashion of men of his days. The group portrait of the members of The Circle of the Rue Royale is an exclusively male club of the Paris elite. Tissot gives particular care and attention to the gentlemen’s clothes. The costumes that they wear as well as the accessories show the fashion of the aristocracy in the 1860s. There are manyaspects of the painting that make it both aesthetically beautiful and give it a real-life appearance. The accuracy and attention to even minute details are the key factors that rival photography. The painter depicts even specks on the floor. It also exhibits no signs of being doctored so as to appear perfect as the painter captures even waste papers on the floor. Furthermore, the relaxed nature of the gentlemen prompts the viewer to want to associate with the setting. The detailed fashion and the confident looks of the gentlemen that suggest that they were really comfortable in their attire further enhance the beauty of the painting.

The Sense of Fashion

The painting reveals men’s fashion of the time. Lean, fitted suits appear to have the norm for the men of this period. They also wore three-piece broken suits consisting of trousers and two coats with either trousers and coats or the inner coat and the knee length overcoat differing in color. The jackets were single-breasted. Some men also donned top hats. By this time, the men’s fashion had departed from the longer wellington boots. The boots they wore at that time were ankle length and highly polished. The fashion of that time allowed men to be creative, yet elegant in their clothes.

Interior Design

The interior design also reveals a high sense of fashion. The lush well-trimmed indoor plants give life to the balcony. Rich blending of light and colors, including gold grey and ruby red, give an indication of careful selection and composition. The same is enhanced by matching colors of the couch and the floor. The couches themselves are expertly embroiled with pattern designs of flowers that give them a touch of beauty and an appearance of comfort.


The composition of the portrait points to an expert and talented painter. The application of soft colors, which are neither too bright nor too dull, coupled with carefully controlled brightness, hue and saturation, the expertly constructed straight lines in the floor, windows, walls and columns of the building that enhance the viewer’s opinion on the expertise of the constructors of the building, and the intricate curves that give the couches a fluffy and soft look, enhance the beauty of the painting. The blurred exterior ensures that the skies do not compete with the subjects of the portrait for the viewer’s attention. Tissot also seems to hold many artists’ views that triangles are aesthetically pleasing shapes when implied within an image, and as such makes them visible on the floor and enhances them in the construction of his subjects’ faces. The painting gives an insight into the life of the upper class in Europe, and by extension of Tissot and his eye for detail in fashion as proved by the extensive care, he pays to the gentlemen’s fashion. 

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