The Artists’ Wives, 1885
Oil on canvas
An elegant dandy himself, James Tissot excelled at recording the fashions of his contemporaries. The occasion represented here is one of quintessential display of works of art and of people: the vernissage or varnishing day on the eve of the official opening of the Paris Salon. This painting is one of fifteen canvases exhibited in 1885 under the series title La Femme à Paris (The Parisian Woman), in which he captured the renowned chic elegance and poise of the Parisienne.
Tissot seems likely to have known Darwin, since he made a caricature of him for Vanity Fair in 1871. While he would not have painted this as an exposé of Darwin’s views on sexual selection, the women nevertheless display the tendency that Darwin observed among the 'more beautiful' sex to further beautify themselves with colour and pattern, as well as feathers, while the men sport fine examples of facial hair—beards, moustaches, and whiskers of different kinds—which Darwin defined as the principal 'secondary sexual characteristic' among men.
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, jr., and The Grandy Fund, Landmark Communications Fund, and 'An Affair To Remember', 1982