The Crack Shot
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (Nantes 1836 - Château de Buillon, Besancon 1902)
This is the earliest of Tissot's pictures to have been painted in England, and it is exceptional for him in showing an active, independent woman. It may be set in the purlieus of Kensington Palace Gardens and if not at the home of Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922), the artist's first patron, it may where the first owner of the picture, Adriano de Murrieta, Marquès de Santurce, lived. The year after it was painted, the artist was himself wielding a rifle in earnest, as a sniper in the Siege of Paris by the Prussians.
Oil painting on canvas, The Crack Shot, by James Tissot (Nantes 1836 - Château de Buillon, Besancon 1902), signed bottom left: J.J. Tissot 69 . One of the finest pictures Tissot painted in England, it possibly shows the garden of Cleeve Lodge, the Hyde Park home of Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922), the editor of Vanity Fair. Bowles had invited Tissot over to England to paint the magazine's chief backer, Colonel Burnaby (1869-1870; National Portrait Gallery); the bearded figure in the background may be a portrait of Bowles. Bought by Captain Bambridge in 1937. Gilt frame.
The Crack Shot is exceptional amongst Tissot's paintings in showing an active, independent woman, in command of the situation; one who is for once, more absorbed by her activity than just conscious of, or responsive to, being observed. As Sir Michael Levey has said, generally in Tissot's paintings: "Elegantly rather than ostentatiously dressed, though very much dressed, costumed, encased in clothes that seem at once plumage and armour, women occupy a prominent yet uncertain place - disturbing, even perhaps provoking, men more than, apparently, feeling much themselves .... [they] not only cast a potent spell over men, but seem often to do so half against their will. How bored they are with their role! To escape from the burden of being attractive, of causing emotional stress, might be supposed the chief feeling with which, in painting after painting, they gaze beyond the spectator". That The Crack Shot has this - for Tissot - unusual character seems to be connected with the moment at which it was painted. 1869 was the first year of Tissot's second visit to London, a visit that seems to have been intended as more than just a sojourn, rather - having conquered Paris socially and with his art - as a fresh campaign in life's battle (which is what he told Edmond de Goncourt he enjoyed London for) . It was, in fact, only to be a precursor of his actually taking up residence here, from 1871 to 1882, since - making the picture a curious anticipation of events - he was to return to Paris in the autumn of 1870 to play a courageous part as a sniper against the Prussians besieging the city. Other productions of the year 1869-70 show a similar desire to give a new direction to his art in England. From 1870 dates his memorable portrait of the nonchalant hero, Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (National Portrait Gallery) , the first and most striking of a mere handful of portraits of men, that are restricted to his first years in London. And between 1869 and 1870, under the sobriquet 'Coïdé' he supplied sixteen caricatures of foreign royalty and politicians to the newly-founded journal Vanity Fair, whose great initial popularity was due to its pioneering this art-form in England, in the shape of chromolithographs of English politicians and other public figures by 'Ape' (Carlo Pellegrini) . The linking figure between all these early activities of Tissot in England - perhaps even including the present picture - was that lively character Thomas Gibson Bowles (?1841-1922) . It was he who founded Vanity Fair in 1868, commissioning - or buying en bloc - Tissot's caricatures the next year. One of his two collaborators was Colonel Burnaby, who also put up half the £200 with which the magazine was reputedly founded. And although Bowles's own account of his racing to Paris in September 1870 to write about the Prussian advance on and siege of Paris as a war correspondent for the Morning Post does not expressly link this journey with Tissot's return there, they went on to share a billet, and his book on the siege, The Defence of Paris, was illustrated with sketches made on the spot by Tissot. These the latter worked up into illustrations when staying subsequently at Bowles's London house, Cleeve Lodge, Hyde Park Gate, where the publisher gave him refuge when he had to flee Paris after siding - inexplicably -with the failed Commune. It has even been suggested that the present painting is set in the garden of Cleeve Lodge. There is no evidence for this, nor even of Tissot staying with Bowles on his first visit to London: he is more likely to have stayed with a fellow-artist, to give him access to a studio. But it certainly looks like the garden of a town house, with walls and piers dating from around 1700, and the title latterly given to it, 'At the Rifle Range', is clearly inappropriate. There is no range: a Pembroke table and a rug have been brought out of doors to make a temporary stand under a garden trellis, and the young woman appears to be testing a variety of rifles and pistols, watched by a man - whose whiskered face is not wholly dissimilar from Bowles's when war correspondent - and by a woman who places her hands over her ears. Nonetheless, one wonders whether the key to the locale - and perhaps even to the subject - may not instead reside with Adriano de Murrieta, Marquis de Santurce, who attempted without success to sell this and another picture by Tissot, On the Thames: the frightened heron, at Christie's in 1883, making him - or rather his brother, José de Murrieta, who had already attempted to sell On the Thames at Christie's in 1873 - one of the earliest recorded owners of the artist's work in England. Although the Murrietas had vast - and perhaps somewhat indiscriminate - collections, chiefly of modern British and Continental painting, Don Cristobel de Murrieta -described as "an elderly Spanish-born merchant and banker" - and his sons employed Alfred Stevens to decorate the great new mansion built for them by Sydney Smirke at 11, Kensington Palace Gardens, from around1854, and subsequently got Walter Crane to paint a frieze in the ballroom added in 1873 (see Survey of London, vol.XXXVII (1973): Northern Kensington, pp.165-66). Thus, although the subsequent sales of their collection in 1892-94 from 11, Kensington Palace Gardens, 4, Carlton House Terrace, and Southover [later called Wadhurst Park] (after a financial crash precipitated by the bankruptcy of The Argentine) show that they subsequently preferred Alma-Tadema to Tissot, the present picture may not only have been painted for one of them, rather than just have been bought by them, but may have employed part of the purlieus of Kensington Palace as its setting. The identity and pretext of Tissot's markswoman may therefore remain a mystery, but the picture itself is a rather satisfying one-off in Tissot's oeuvre. (i) Originally in The Antique Collector, June 1984, reprinted in exh. cat. James Tissot, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1984, pp.8-9. (ii) Edmond & Jules de Goncourt, Journal, éd. défin., Paris, vol. VI (1935), p.143, entry for 28 May 1882: "Il me dit aimer l'Angleterre, Londres, l'odeur du charbon de terre, parce que ça sent la bataille de la vie ...". (iii) Exh.cat.cit., no.30, p.104, & col.pl.11. (iv) Exh. cats. Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, London, Art Services International, 1993, no.65; Vanity Fair, National Portrait Gallery, 1976. (v) Leonard E. Naylor, The Irrepressible Victorian, 1965 (making disappointing use of Bowles's since-vanished papers). (adapated from the author's pre-publication/unedited version of Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
Sale of the collection of [Adriano de Murrieta,] Marquès de Santurce [of 11, Kensington Palace Gardens], Christie's, 7 April 1883, lot 151 (bought in at 210 gns.); J. Beausire sale, Christie's, 12 March 1934, lot 76, bought by Tooth for 50 gns.; with the Leicester Galleries, London, 1936 to 1937, when bought by Captain George Bambridge; thence to his widow, Elsie Kipling, Mrs Bambridge, by whom left to the National Trust with Wimpole and all its contents on her death in 1976
Wimpole Hall, The Bambridge Collection (National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
(J.J.) Tissot (69)
Makers and roles
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (Nantes 1836 - Château de Buillon, Besancon 1902)
James Tissot, 1836-1902, Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2019 - 2020 James Tissot, 1836-1902, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 2019 - 2020 In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.28
Laver, 1936: J. Laver, Vulgar Society, the Romantic Career of Tissot, 1936, p.73 & 75 & pl.V (dated to c.1872 Wentworth, 1984: M. Wentworth, James Tissot, 1984, p.111 & pl.96 Buron 2019: Melissa E. Buron, James Tissot, San Francisco: de Young, Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2019., p. 99, 255, 286; cat. 16.