Both James Tissot, a French artists known first for his pictures of modern fashionable life, and William Hole, of the Royal Scottish Academy, conceived the idea of portraying the various incidents of the earthly ministry of Christ as they might happen in the Palestine of today. The lighting and colour of the landscapes, the forms of nature and of buildings, the attitudes of the figures and their costumes, the furniture, the accessories, are all drawn from actual life, as it can be studied today on the Mount of Olives, by the Sea of Tiberias, or at Bethany. The resulting pictures, made accessible by popular reproductions, are fill of interest, and at every turn furnish some new suggestion that makes us realize and interpret better the familiar scenes.
Tissot's late nineteenth-century watercolors of the life of Christ were popularly disseminated as Bible illustrations. They are geographically and ethnographically precise while exhibiting little interest in investigating heir principal subject as a knowable psychological being.
For years [Tissot] enjoyed a great vogue in London, where his pictures were well hung at the Royal Academy and were regarded as among the best shown there. But he was not distinguished for any devotion to serious subjects and was wholly unknown in the field of religious art. His change of subject matter was the result of a great personal sorrow, experienced in the death of a dear friend, and after beginning his great series of gospel illustrations he is not known to have ever undertaken any picture other than of religious character.
Many of Tissot’s paintings and prints dealt with scenes from his private life and great romance with Kathleen Newton, a beautiful, young divorcée with two illegitimate children. Her premature death in her late twenties deeply sorrowed Tissot. He moved back to Paris, plunged himself into his work and subsequently traveled extensively painting religious scenes. He spent his last two years at the abbey in Buillon and died in relative obscurity.
Tissot's art was equated with the pretensions of social climbers or flashy women. Social commentators acknowledged that women at balls, like Tissot's lady in yellow, were injects on display, their fashionability redolent with the allure of the commodity. […] Besides seeming tainted by the market, like the fashion plate, Tissot's work was also dubious because of the potential harmfulness, both physical and moral, of fashion itself in the late 1870s. […] Tissot's pictures celebrating female artifice took on similar, potentially threatening implications.
[Tissot] Declined an invitation from Degas to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Returned to Paris in 1883, and had his first one-man exhibition that year at the Palais de l'Industrie there.
James Tissot, the fashionable Anglo-French painter of richly detailed genre scenes, was Degas's mentor at the time. Degas and Tissot may have met first when both were students of the portraitist Louis Lamothe, but they were reintroduced about 1862. Degas copied works by Tissot and continually sought his advice through the mid-1870s.
Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris Commune (1871) he moved to London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882. He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris and lived in some style in fashionable St John's Wood: in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing and shining the shrubbery leaves’.
Although Tissot was friendly with the Impressionists, especially Degas, and like them chose subjects from modern life, the detail and finish of his paintings are closer to contemporary academic painters such as Jean-Leon Gerome and Hippolyte Flandrin, with whom he studied. His most frequent subject was the society woman, and despite a similarity to the fashion pages of illustrated journals, the paintings are often tinged with a Victorian moralizing tone.
Tissot achieved official recognition for his work rather quickly. First he painted historical costume pieces, but in about 1864 he turned to scenes of contemporary life, usually with attractive stylish women. Both the subject and Tissot’s manner of painting had a success with the collectors, and by 1870 the painter was earning a substantial income.