James Tissot: “The Impresario” Brouhaha in the San Francisco Fine Arts scene

October 11, 2019 we attended the Menbers Preview of the James Tissot exhibit at the Legion of Honor situated on the bluffs of northwest San Francisco overlooking the Pacific. The exhibit is marvelous. In a small corner of the expansive showing is a story of art world controversy involving the featured artist.

Liz Heidhues penned a letter to San Francisco Chornicle art critic Charles Desmarais. The noted critic reviewed the Tissot exhibit without mentioning the brouhaha surrounding “The Impresario.” The root of the controversy began in 1953 when the painting shown above was given to the Fine Arts Museums as an Edgar Degas.

A link to the Chronicle review is attached.

Photos and following text: Elizabeth Heidhues

Dear Charles,

As usual, San Francisco is embroiled in controversy: political, artistic, whatever.

Your review of FAMSF’s “Tissot: Fashion and Faith” overlooked the big controversy of “The “Impresario”, which has its own special display in the exhibit.

A brouhaha continues to swirl around “Who gave a Tissot painting to the Museums as an Edgar Degas original?”

Did the donor of the “Impresario” (as it is titled) get a super big tax write-off for donating a painting inflated to be more valuable than it really was back in the day? You yourself said in your review that Tissot “failed to take the chances and set himself the challenges that might have made him great”.

My husband and I really enjoyed the Tissot exhibit.


The details of Tissot’s paintings are exquisite. The pools of water that he painted draw you in with color and depth to look deeper. So do his “leaves” and “flowers”.

The little touches like the cigar butt on the ground in Tissot’s representation of the young male dandies in a social tête-à-tête are realistic.

Tissot’s depiction of his muse and companion, Kathleen Newton, in a wasted condition, pale and dark-eyed, as she dies of tuberculosis is sad.


By the way, the caption adjoining the Chronicle’s photo of Tissot’s “October” was misleading.

It stated “…Much of the exhibit centers on James Tissot’s longtime lover, Kathleen Newton…”

The exhibit’s curators wrote that the relationship existed only for six years, since Kathleen Newton died at the age of 28.

We always read your art reviews in the Chronicle.

For me, a trip to one of San Francisco’s art museums is an escape from San Francisco’s mayhem and conflicts.