PRETENCE V/S PIETY: ‘The Widows Mite’ by James Tissot (1886 – 1894)

 Jacques Joseph Tissot, later anglicized as James Tissot, was born in 1836 near the busy port of Nantes, France to a prosperous draper. At the age of 17, he embarked upon his artistic mission which spanned three successful periods. In the first phase in Paris (1859-1870), he enjoyed great success as a high-society painter. He lived among rich aristocrats near the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. His leisured, well-secured life was soon skewered by the struggles of the French Revolution.

The fall of the Second Empire in 1870 and the bloody Franco Prussian war in 1871 compelled him to flee to London. Here, from 1871 to 1882, his career soared for the second time. However his successful eleven year sojourn ended in an emotional disaster. In 1882, his dearly loved mistress, Kathleen Newton died of consumption.

While working on a series of paintings themed, ‘The Woman of Paris’, James Tissot visited the Church of St. Sulpice in order to sketch the portrait of a choir singer. Here he encountered God in a vision as he saw Christ tending to the broken-hearted and the down trodden. This was his route to Damascus; his Metanoia! The encounter renewed his faith and shifted his artistic focus.

He took off on a research trip to Holy Land, beginning his ten year campaign to illustrate the New Testament. The result was ‘The Life of Christ’ popularly also known as ‘the Tissot Bible.’ It is a monumental series of 350 water coloured imagery displaying profuse observations with lucid realism.

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