Finding Inspiration in the World’s Great Art

James Tissot: Bible illustrator extraordinaire

Compiled by Bruce Menzies

Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in the port town of Nantes, France in 1836, and spent his early childhood there.  Nantes, is city in western France on the Loire River and the chief industry of shipbuilding. Tissot’s youth spent there likely contributed to his frequent depiction of shipping vessels and boats in his later works.

A devout Catholic, Tissot’s mother instilled pious devotion in the future artist from a very early age and his parents involvement in the fashion industry is believed to have influenced his later painting style depicting women’s clothing in fine detail. His mother was also pivotal in supporting his ambitions of becoming an artist at age seventeen. Around this time, as an expression of his Anglophilia and his interest in everything English, Tissot began using the given name of James and became commonly known as James Tissot.

At about twenty years of age, Tissot travelled to Paris to pursue an art education and enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts, which has trained many of the great artists of Europe. Like many of the other painters of that era, Tissot spent time copying works at the Louvre. Around this time Tissot made the acquaintance of other artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet.

In 1859, Tissot exhibited in the Paris Salon for the first time showing five paintings from the middle Ages. Afterwards, the French government paid 5,000 francs for his depiction of The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite (1860).

Tissot left Paris for London in 1871. There he developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life. By 1872, Tissot bought a house in the St. John’s Wood area, popular with artists at the time. By 1873, Tissot gained membership in The Arts Club (see below).

In 1885, Tissot had a revival of his faith, which caused him to abandon his mundane life as a successful painter of British and French society life and travel to the Middle East, where he visited the sites where Christ walked as a child, preached as a young man, was crucified, and arose from death. Tissot’s renewed embrace of faith and travels were an important motivation for him to create a series of 365 illustrations showing the life of Christ to critical acclaim and enthusiasm in Paris, London, and New York, before being bought by the Brooklyn Museum in 1900. The project brought Tissot vast wealth and fame.

Writer Karen Sue Smith, said it best this way: “Although religious conversion always bears fruit in a person’s life, that fruit is sometimes not visible to the casual observer. In the case of artist James Tissot, however, the evidence of his conversion over one hundred years ago is still plain for all to see.”

During the last years of his life, Tissot worked on paintings of subjects from the Old Testament. He exhibited eighty of these paintings in Paris in 1901. James Tissot died on Friday 8th August 1902 at Chenecey-Buillon in eastern France.

The Arts Club is a London private members club founded in 1863 by, amongst others, Charles Dickens. It remains a meeting place for men and women involved in the creative arts either professionally or as patrons.

More biblical art by James Tissot

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James Tissot, 1898.

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Self portrait, 1865.

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On the Thames, 1882.

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A Passing Storm, 1876.

"What Our Lord Saw from the Cross" devotional







"The Life of Christ" by James Tissot

“The Life of Christ” by James Tissot. The complete set of 350 watercolors from Amazon.

"Adoration of the Magi" print from AMAZON.

Adoration of the Magi painting poster print 12x18.