James Tissot, 1836-1902
Signed and indistinctly dated on the reverse of the panel
Oil on panel
27 x 36 inches (68.5 x 91.5 cm) eachs
[See commentary below]
Commentary from the Fine Art Society Catalogue
The Prodigal Son was a theme which Tissot interpreted three times and the final versions, for which these sketches were done, became his chief exhibition pieces. The oils were exhibited in his one-man show at the Dudley Gallery in May 1882, together with watercolour 'replicas' and etchings made after each of the subjects.
He chose to paint the subject in a series, and the present pictures relate to the first three scenes. No related work is known for the fourth, The Fatted Calf, which differs from these three in design, colour and tone. It seems likely that it was conceived later. The finished paintings follow these works closely: the principal changes concern the male figures in The Departure. The woman at the extreme left of this subject and at the extreme right of The Return is Mrs Newton, and these are among Tissot's last paintings of his mistress who died of consumption on 9th November 1882.
The background in The Departure shows the Thames at Greenwich and that in The Return the river at Rotherhithe. Thus these are also his last paintings of London and the Thames. After Kathleen Newton's burial Tissot left suddenly for Paris, arriving on 14th November. He arranged a large retrospective exhibition of his work at the Palais de l'Industrie in March 1883. The Prodigal Son in Modern Life was once again the centrepiece.
Tissot kept these pictures himself, and they were sold in his studio sale. He bequeathed the finished paintings to the Louvre, but the gift was declined and was offered instead to the Musée de Nantes, Tissot's birthplace, where the series now hangs. The present pictures are two thirds the size of the paintings in Nantes.
Collection of the Artist; Alfred Stroelin, purchased from the J. J. Tissot sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, July 1903; Henry Brendle, Zurich.
The Fine Art Society Story. Part I. London: The Fine Art Society, 2001. Catalogue number 140.
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Wentworth, Michael. James Tissot: Catalogue Raisonnée of his Prints. London: 1978.
Wentworth, Michael. James Tissot. London: 1984.
Last modified 10 August 2001