Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | The Evening Sale

Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | The Evening Sale

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 10. Type of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs. Kathleen Newton.

James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot

Type of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs. Kathleen Newton

Auction Closed

September 6, 08:20 PM GMT


400,000 - 600,000 GBP

Lot Details


James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot


1836 - 1902

Type of Beauty: Portrait of Mrs. Kathleen Newton

signed J.J. Tissot upper right

oil on canvas

Unframed: 59.5 by 45.7cm., 24 by 18in.

Framed: 97 by 84cm., 38¼ by 33in.

Commissioned by the proprietors of the Graphic magazine 1879, for £150; their sale, Christie's, London, 12 March 1881, lot 306, unsold;

Christie's, London, 25 February 1882, lot 142, unsold;

Private collection, Huddersfield, by whom purchased from the Yorkshire Fine Art Society exhibition, June 1882;

Private collection, USA;

Sotheby's, New York, 22 February 1989, lot 166;

Private collection, UK;

Christie’s, London, 25 October 1991, lot 48.

‘Types of Beauty’, in Belfast Newsletter, 17 February 1880;

‘Leeds Fine Art Exhibition’, in Leeds Times, 24 June 1882;

Willard E. Misfeldt, The Albums of James Tissot, Bowling Green, 1982, p. 61, illustrated plate III-20.

London, 'The Graphic' Gallery, Female Types of Beauty, February to June 1880;

Glasgow, 'The Graphic' Gallery at the Art Institute of Glasgow, “Graphic” Beauties, October 1880;

London, 'The Graphic' Gallery, Types of Female Beauty, March 1881;

Leeds, Yorkshire Fine Art Society, May to June 1882.

In 1880 the Graphic magazine - a leading illustrated journal - exhibited a series of specially commissioned half-length portraits of women entitled ‘Types of Beauty’, subsequently engraved and published. Each artist chose a model, who in their opinion, represented the ideal of feminine beauty. Lawrence Alma-Tadema painted his wife Laura, Frank Dicksee portrayed the famous ‘professional beauty’ Lillie Langtry and Lord Leighton painted his regular muse Dorothy Dene. Tissot chose to paint his model, muse and mistress Kathleen Newton – the woman whose beauty helped him to make his artistic reputation but whose background ruined his reputation in Society. His ‘Type of Beauty’ is among his most tender portraits of Kathleen and his most direct and uncomplicated images of her – there is no hidden narrative here, it is simply a portrait of the woman he loved dressed in the height of modern fashion and set against a background of nasturtium flowers and geraniums.

The purposefully flat perspective and brilliant colour of Type of Beauty can be traced back to Tissot’s passion for, and study of, Japanese art. He had been enthusiastically interested in Japanese style since the 1860s, so much so that in 1864 Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote to his mother of his frustration having visited a shop on the rue de Rivoli in Paris where Madame Desoye sold Japanese items; ‘but found all the costumes were being snapped up by a French artist Tissot…’ Japan had been closed for trade with the West for 250 years until the 1850s when trade resumed and France and Britain were swept by a craze for Japanese art. Few artist’s studios were not draped in embroidered silk kimonos, black bamboo furniture groaned under the weight of exotic bronze incense burners and mythological fire-breathing dragons and the walls were crammed with beautiful prints. Artists like Whistler, Rossetti and Albert Moore competed with each other, and other rich collectors, to buy blue and white porcelain and woodcuts. The style became known as Japonisme, a term coined by the French critic Philippe Burty in the early 1870s. In pictures like Japonaise au Bain of 1864 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon) Tissot painted an eroticised view of Japan and Japanese style but with Jeunes Femmes Regardant des Objets Japonais of 1869 (Cincinnati Art Museum) the oriental references are more subtle and the contrast between European fashion and Japanese art is made to suggest connoisseurship and the meeting of East and West. The inclusion of the black fan in Type of Beauty is a continuation of Tissot’s passion for Japanese style but the painting is more sophisticated and combines Tissot’s link to the Impressionists with his appreciation for London fashion and the formalities of Oriental art.

Type of Beauty, is in some ways, Tissot's most direct and most intimate portrait of the woman he loved and who inspired his greatest pictures. Mrs Kathleen Newton met Tissot in 1876 when he was living in London after fleeing the Paris Commune of 1871 and establishing a flourishing career as a painter of elegant contemporary life. From the moment he saw Kathleen he was besotted with her but as a divorcée she would have been considered déclassé in Victorian society and therefore he could not marry her. She moved into Tissot’s beautiful home and they lived openly as a couple and he painted her repeatedly in domestic settings which were exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery and elsewhere. This shocked many of their neighbours. Invitations ceased to arrive at 17 Grove End Road and people crossed the road to avoid him, as ‘Society’ turned its back on the artist and his live-in mistress. She began to recede into the shadows of Tissot’s house, kept indoors or in the leafy garden, away from prying eyes and whispers of impropriety. However, far from disappearing entirely, her face appeared in virtually every picture of this period from the glamorously simple Mavourneen of 1877 (an oil and an engraving) and July of 1878 to the more narrative The Warrior’s Daughter of 1878. Type of Beauty in particular would have made Kathleen's beauty even better-known as it was printed in large numbers by the Graphic magazine to be framed and hung in homes across Britain - from thousands of suburban front parlours and sitting-rooms of country cottages her face would have looked out at her admirers even though they did not know her name.

Tissot and Newton's loving idyll did not last long and in 1882 she became ill with tuberculosis, and died aged only twenty-eight. Tissot was devastated, spending four days sitting beside her coffin and abandoning London for Paris on the day after her funeral because he could no longer endure the emptiness of his home. The gossips in London stopped whispering about Kathleen and in Paris few would have known of Tissot’s lost-love. In one last tragedy, Kathleen was forgotten. The woman in Tissot’s London paintings was simply referred to as la mystérieuse for over half a century until her niece, Lillian Hervey, though just 7 years of age at the time of her aunt’s passing, came forward with memoirs in 1945.

Freddie Mercury bought Type of Beauty on 25 October 1991, only a month before he died. Whether he knew the tragic story of Kathleen's premature death and whether it struck a chord with his own waning health is not known, but he would certainly have responded to the themes of fashion and fame that are embodied in the painting. Kathleen's flamboyant clothing, the nod to Japoniste taste suggested by the black fan and the blooming flowers surrounding her would have appealed to Freddie Mercury's love of fashion, Japanese style and gardens.

With thanks to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for her assistance cataloguing this lot.