There are but a few artists that can accurately render feelings. The emotion depicted in this painting by Tissot, is that of undying love.
James Jacques Joseph Tissot’s painting entitled “A Winter’s Walk” is of his beautiful Irish muse and later lover, Kathleen Newton – known as “Kate” to her friends and family. Kate was born in 1854 to Charles Ashburnham Kelly, an Irish army officer who was employed by the East India Company in Lahore, India; her mother, Flora Boyd, was from Ireland.
Kelly arranged a match for his sixteen-year-old daughter, Kate, with Isaac Newton, a surgeon in the Indian Civil Service. On the outward voyage to be married, however, a young sailor, Captain Pallisar, became entranced by her beauty. The girl nobly refused his advances but was, nonetheless, struck by the captain. After the marriage in 1870 and before consummation, Kate, on the advice of her pastor, explained to her new husband her love for Pallisar and the brief courtship.
Refusing to believe Kate’s innocence in the matter, Newton instituted divorce proceedings and ordered her back to England. Still in love with the young beauty, Pallisar paid for her passage, but only on the condition that she finally yield to his seductions. She ultimately became pregnant but refused to marry the captain. Her daughter Muriel Violet Mary Newton, called Violet, was born in Yorkshire on 20 December 1871 on the same day that her divorce was finalized. Kate and baby Violet went to live with Kate’s sister Polly and her husband in St John’s Wood, outside of London, England. It is here that she finally meets the man who would immortalize her, James Jacques Joseph Tissot.
Newton became the subject of many of his paintings. It is obvious in this painting that he adored her totally and loved to paint not just her beautiful face, but also to dwell on her dresses, pleats, ribbons, bows and hats. He had a great artistic talent, and also an eye for style and a feeling for chic. Although the people in his pictures are so elegant and pretty that they could have been a model out of fashion magazines, they are yet very human and just ordinary people. Every picture tells a story.
Soon after Tissot painted Kate in “A Winters Walk,” they moved in together. Although their love affair scandalized Victorian London, it was of no concern to either of them. Each considered the other the love of their life, and nothing else mattered. Tragically, their love affair lasted only a fleeting 5 years for soon into their relationship, Kate fell prey to tuberculosis. As she became sicker and weaker she was unable to watch his grief and took her own life in November 1882. The despondent Tissot sat by her coffin for four days.
I can’t think of one other single painting of a common person where so much is known about the subject. The more I found out about her the more fascinated I became with her gutsy individuality, belief in freedom and choice, and her elegant beauty – the last of which she was utterly oblivious.
Interestingly, the whereabouts of this particular painting had previously been unknown until it came onto the market recently – much to the delight of Tissot historians. The newest edition of the catalogue raisonné will now feature this work rather than a mere representational etching based upon it. I feel incredibly fortunate to bring such important work in the artist’s oeuvre to you for consideration!