124 watercolors by James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”

James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”
Brooklyn Museum of Art

This exhibition includes 124 watercolors selected from a set of 350 detailed illustrations of the New Testament by the nineteenth-century French artist James Tissot (1836–1902). It marks the first time in nearly twenty years that any of the Tissot watercolors, a pivotal acquisition that entered the collection in 1900, have been on view at the Brooklyn Museum.

Born in France, Tissot had a successful artistic career in Paris and London painting society. In 1882, he began work on a set of paintings depicting the costumes and manners of fashionable Parisian women. While visiting the church of Saint-Sulpice, he experienced a religious vision, after which he embarked on his ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament.

Tissot created his precisely rendered watercolors of the life of Christ with the same meticulous attention to detail that he had applied to painting society. He strove for historical authenticity, making expeditions to the Middle East to record the landscape, architecture, costumes, and customs of the Holy Land, convinced that the region had remained unchanged since Jesus’ time.

The exhibition includes a wide range of works from the series, from sweeping topographical scenes such as Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod to a remarkable tableau of Golgotha as seen from the vantage point of Jesus himself, entitled What Our Lord Saw from the Cross. In addition, there are highly dramatic and often mystical images, such as Jesus Ministered to by Angels and The Grotto of the Agony.

In 1900, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences decided to purchase the series for $60,000, which was raised by public subscription. The sheer number of watercolors increased the Museum’s art collection by several times. Since the 1930s, in part because of conservation concerns, they have been shown only rarely and in small exhibitions, most recently from late 1989 to early 1990.

James Tissot: “The Life of Christ” is organized for the Brooklyn Museum by Judith F. Dolkart, Associate Curator, European Art.

This exhibition is made possible in part with a generous award from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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