The Woman Behind the Painting- Kathleen Newton

There is a sparkling, absorbing beauty to romance, a magical, emotional attachment that binds two people together. Fascination and devotion cannot help but arise, as love sweeps in and caresses the mind and soul. Instinctual connections thrive in the glowing atmosphere of compassionate beauty and attractive passion…

There is a glorious, affirmative independence to choice, a liberating, open variety to decisions and opinions of your own.  Dreams are allowed to rise to the glistening surface and personal hopes are given the chance to explore, wonder, and act. A bold being contains a power to be oneself…

And Kathleen Newton and James Jacques Tissot discovered both of these wonderful aspects of the world through their life experiences. They combined them together, forming something wonderful.


Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly was the Irish mistress, muse, model, and true love of the French artist James Jacques Tissot. Born in 1854, she grew up in the cities of Lahore and Agra, in India. Charles, her father, worked with the East India Company. At the young age of 17, her father desired her to marry Isaac Newton, a surgeon with the Indian Civil Service and set up the match. With no say in the male-dominated, constraining atmosphere, she was forcibly destined to a loveless marriage. During her journey, a man named Captain Palliser became enraptured by her magnificent charm; however, she did not accept his advances. Before the consummation of her marriage to Newton, with a strong faith and honest mind, Kathleen explained the attempt at her innocence by the captain.  Considering her damaged and of no more use, Newton instituted divorce proceedings almost immediately. With little of her own money, Kathleen hopelessly agreed on a deal with the captain that he would pay for her way home only if she would become his mistress. Even though she became pregnant, Kathleen refused to marry him, for she did not care for him. Her courage soared . Her daughter was born. Her divorce was finalized. And she met the love of her life, James Jacques Tissot.




Tissot fought in the Franco-Prussian War and following the brutal, suppressing events of the Paris commune in 1871, he changed his name to James and moved to London to seek new opportunities. He became a painter of very high critical and commercial success with an undeniable artistic eye for color, design, and detail. He had an ability to depict striking fashions with care and energy. While in London, he met the alluring Kathleen and was attracted to her instantly. The rose of their romance blossomed and the core of their euphoria was embraced. Moving into his home in 1876 and having another child, a son, which is believed to have been Tissot’s, the two lived in, as Tissot called it, “domestic bliss.” For 6 years of creative awakening and delightful fascination, Kathleen became the main subject of Tissot’s daily and artistic life, modeling for many of his famous artworks. As a couple, they publicly defied Victorian society by showing their unconventional romance. They made the choice to be together, to be happy, and to be in love. This love is depicted readily in many of Tissot’s fashionable paintings of Kathleen…


Known to Tissot as ‘Mavourneen,’ “my beloved,” as well as ‘Ravissante Irlandaise,’ “delightful Irish,” Kathleen was depicted in a manner that is absolutely breathtaking. In this artwork entitled Seaside, Kathleen’s beauty is highlighted enchantingly with the outside light brushing gracefully against her smooth cheeks. An intimacy is captured as she casually lounges on the flowered seating. And the fashions she wears emphasizes this extraordinary closeness as she radiates in an airy white summer dress that lacks the customary outerwear petticoats of the time. Kathleen shines in a loose, relaxing creation of dazzling pleats and glistening yellow ribbons. With an aura of seaside loveliness, the romance between James and Kathleen lives within the artwork.


In this splendidly elegant painting entitled, Mavourneen, the courageous attributes of Kathleen are shown. She stands with a poise of bravery, a confident purpose that is only heightened by her sumptuous, dark fur-lined coat and matching accented fur hat. Dressed in these grand fashions, in this rich, dignified outfit of grace, Kathleen Newton is depicted as the woman she always was…a woman who was unafraid of criticism, a woman who made her own decisions, a woman who succeeded in finding true love.

Unfortunately, at only the age of 28, Kathleen Newton contracted tuberculosis. Dying before his very eyes, Tissot was overcome with a painful gloom and heartbreak. No longer capable of watching the man she loved sink into this horrible depression, Kathleen committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum. Although a tragedy, the two of them together were able to, if only for a few short years, live out their dreams of a fulfilling life of family, choice, and romance.

And Kathleen was able to live a contented existence of independence and freedom.

3 thoughts on “The Woman Behind the Painting- Kathleen Newton

  1. Just saw your beautiful post. Thought you might like to see more on James Tissot & Kathleen Newton!

    Kathleen Newton by James Tissot: eight auctioned oil paintings,

    James Tissot’s garden idyll & Kathleen Newton’s death,

    In addition to my 2012 book on their relationship, “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot,” you may be interested in Patricia O’Reilly’s 2010 novel, “A Type of Beauty: The Story of Kathleen Newton (1854-1882).” Both are available at

    Lucy Paquette

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s