L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, February 16, 2018

Le Cercle de la rue Royale - a group portrait by James Tissot, 1868

At the end of the Second Empire, this impressive group portrait was commissioned from Tissot by the members of the Cercle de la rue Royale, a gentleman's club which had been founded in 1852. Each of the twelve men portrayed paid one thousand francs for the painting's creation, and the finished work was put on display in one of the club's salons. It was decided, however, that the painting would be awarded to one of the sponsors or his descendants when and if the club ceased to exist, the final owner being determined via a lottery. Baron Hottinger, seated to the right on the sofa, was eventually named the winner and his family claimed the painting at the club's dissolution in 1916. The painting remained with the baron's family until it was acquired by the Musée d'Orsay in 2011.

The scene takes place on one of the balconies of the Hôtel de Coislin that overlooks the Place de la Concorde. Through the balustrade on the left can be seen passers-by and a carriage and, above, one can make out the roofs of the Palais de l'Industrie, built for the Paris World Fair of 1855 and destroyed in 1897 to make way for the Grand Palais of the 1900 World Fair. With his vast canvas - roughly six by nine feet - Tissot has created a French version of the traditional conversation piece. By staging it outside and in a frankly urban setting, by his scrupulous attention to the details of fashion - something he would always be known for; he was, after all, the son of a drapery merchant and a milliner - Tissot created an image that was considered the height of modernity. And one that successfully blended the focus of cool-eyed Neoclassicism - epitomized by Ingres - with the mood of just-emerging Impressionism, the wave of the future.

If one looks closely, there are a lot of cigar butts and piles of ash and spent matches lying about; I guess they're technically outdoors...?

The members of the club portrayed here are:
Alfred de Faÿ, comte (later marquis) de La Tour-Maubourg (1834-1891).
Alfred-Thérèse-Armand, marquis du Lau d'Allemans (1833-1919).
Étienne (Anne Étienne), comte de Ganay (1833-1903) - Counsellor general of the Saône-et-Loire.
Julien (Louis Aimery Victurnien), comte de Rochechouart (1828-1897).
Capitaine Coleraine Robert Vansittart (1833-1886).
René de Cassagne de Beaufort, marquis de Miramon (1835-1882) - The marquis, his wife, and two eldest children had been painted by Tissot three years before.
Rodolphe, baron Hottinguer (1835-1920) - Banker.
Charles-Alexandre, marquis de Ganay (1803-1881) - There seems to be some confusion as to the identity of this figure. The marquis was a minister, art collector, and father to the comte de Ganay. (Pictured here as well, third from left.) He was also 65 in the year this was painted, making him more than a generation older than the other gentlemen. So I wonder if this might be his younger son, Jacques-Henri-Jean de Ganay (1843-1899), who would have been a more plausible 25.
Gaston (Charles Gaston Esmangart) de Bournonville, baron de Saint Maurice (1831-1905) - Grand Equerry to the Khedive of Egypt and collector of Islamic art.
Edmond Melchior Jean Marie, prince de Polignac (1834-1901) - Composer, but more famous for his mariage blanc to a Singer sewing machine heiress.
Gaston Alexandre Auguste, marquis de Galliffet, prince de Martigues (1830-1909) - Three years later a fierce opponent of the Paris Commune.
Charles Haas (1833-1902) - Would later serve as one of Proust's models for Swann.

L-R: Alfred de Faÿ, comte de La Tour-Maubourg; Alfred-Thérèse-Armand, 
marquis du Lau d’Allemans; Étienne (Anne Étienne), comte de Ganay...
... Julien, comte de Rochechouart; Capitaine Coleraine Robert Vansittart; René de Cassagne de Beaufort, marquis de Miramon; 
Rodolphe, baron Hottinguer; Charles-Alexandre, marquis de Ganay or his son, Jacques-Henri-Jean de Ganay?...
... Gaston de Bournonville, baron de Saint Maurice; Edmond Melchior Jean Marie, prince de Polignac;
Gaston Alexandre Auguste, marquis de Galliffet, prince de Martigues; Charles Haas.


Tissot was tremendously successful during his lifetime, but his star faded fairly quickly after his death; honestly, his work is shallow in content and lacking in any real artistic/painterly individuality. And when his work is referenced today it's primarily to examine the sociology behind his honeyed depictions of the lifestyles of the wealthy of the period and, especially, to study the exacting record he's left us of high fashion from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. 

After too much time spent researching the gentlemen who people this portrait, I'm going to have to let dear Wikipedia tell you all about our esteemed artist.


  1. Shallow he may be, but I'm mad for that sofa.

    Okay, so maybe I'm shallow, too...

  2. If you visit David Mc Donald Weston's Facebook page he has referenced this painting in another context--his great great uncle (via marriage to Winaretta Singer) was Prince de Polignac. But he identifies his uncle as seated in the chair nearest Charles Haas (i.e. second to extreme right).

    1. Very interesting! "But"? I also identify the gentleman in the chair at right as the prince de Polignac; we quite agree. : )

  3. I've found it interesting to read that while we view Tissot's depictions of high society as charming and romantic, contemporary criticism in England denounced him for depicting the racy, gaudy and slightly raffish society of the nouveau riche, rather than the most staid, aristocratic circles which were held up as "proper" examples of the ruling classes.