The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Master Impressions: James Tissot, “L’Enfant Prodigue” (“The Prodigal Son”)

James Tissot, The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: In Foreign Climes (En pays estranger),  1881

August 4 – October 30, 2011

Working under the direction of Lauren Rabb, UAMA Curator of Art, James Tissot and The Prodigal Son in Modern Life is the curatorial debut of Lené Carroll, a University of Arizona senior history major with a minor in classics. The series of five etchings take the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son retelling the scenes in terms of “modern life,” in this case the late nineteenth century.

A celebrated artist who worked in many mediums, Tissot’s work so accurately depicts 19th century France and England that it seems romanticized today. However, his fidelity to both a modern sense of beauty and the raw truth of the everyday resulted in his being known in his own time as “the painter of vulgar society.”

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life series was completed in 1882, on the cusp of transition in Tissot’s life. He exhibited these works in England and France, and their great success can be attributed not only to the expert execution of the prints but also to a theme generally loved by the public. Tissot’s mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton, can be seen in three of the five plates. She died of consumption shortly after the completion of the series, at the age of only twenty-eight. After her death Tissot shifted away from the depiction of “vulgar society” and began some of his most well known works: paintings from the Old Testament, and the renowned series The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (with a total of 350 illustrations).

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections

This series of small, rotating presentations showcases the exceptional breadth and depth of the UAMA print collection. These selections offer focused consideration of a particularly significant artist or theme, and elucidate some of the most influential developments in the Western printmaking tradition.

See the related exhibitions

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections