The virtuosic bravura of The Impresario became mannered polish in Tissot’s Evening and The Political Woman. Yet, whereas in Evening the more upright gentleman is tightly cropped to the right canvas edge (almost losing the right hand), in The Political Woman he is more central and active, thereby clarifying The Impresario’s key gesture: his gloved right hand slips between the rear flaps of his frock coat, a revealing sleight of hand as he discreetly seeks a banknote, perhaps, from the hidden pocket in his tails—secret pockets being a key feature of men’s high-end tailoring.
The standard support chosen for The Impresario is further evidence of Tissot’s hand as opposed to Degas’s. Although the paper board here was trimmed, its size and substance correspond closely to other Tissot studies: all are relatively small, and on paper board (carton), or paper laid on panel, or panel. However, identifying supports by eye is often inaccurate, and the term “board,” for example, may refer to wood, paper board, or cardboard, so supports are best examined unframed, microscopically. A surface that resembles canvas may in fact be paper or card commercially primed for oil painting and impressed with a canvas texture. At this date, these were widely available off the shelf in Europe, Britain, and America, ready-primed in standard French and British sizes, their wet priming “impressed” with canvas to mimic its texture.
There is, in short, ample evidence to credit Tissot with The Impresario, which continues to be a subject for study at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Text by Anthea Callen, Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture, University of Nottingham, UK; and Professor Emeritus, The Australian National University, Canberra.
Learn more about James Tissot: Fashion & Faith at the Legion of Honor.