Whether for politics or business, those with ambitions seek for partners or patrons that provide ladders for success. Up until the 19th century, it was not easy for women to get professional eduction or profession, so ambitions were usually reserved for men. The woman in James Tissot’s painting appears different, however. Even the title is named “Political Woman.” Who is this
ambitious woman in the painting?
Tissot won fame after exhibiting in the Paris Salon when he was 23 years old, but left for London in 1871 when Paris Commune, which he supported, failed. He changed his name from Jacques to James and gained acclaim in the U.K., but returned to Paris when his lover passed away. Tissot opened an exhibition titled “Women of Paris” with 15 large paintings, of which “Political Woman” was included.
The painting, which was also known as “The Reception,” features a beautiful young lady in a gorgeous dress who accompanies an old gentleman. The man must have wealth and power that can provide the woman with what she wants to have. The couple catches other people’s eyes. Some are whispering or leering the woman, but the young woman seems to enjoy receiving attention from people. The woman at the high-class ball in Paris certainly seeks the rise of her status by embellishing herself. Her captivating pink dress and ostrich feather fan proves that they are masterpieces of the time’s clothing technology.
By creating paintings of upper class women, Tissot proved that he was a French artist and kept a pulse on his clients who were the upper society. However, he failed to get favorable reviews and was criticized for painting a “graceful doll.” The ambitious woman aspiring for rise in social status by taking advantage of men was actually a reflection of the artist yearning for success in Paris.