James Joseph Jacques Tissot was born in Nantes on October 15, 1836. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris under Ingres, Flandrin and Lamothe, and exhibited in the Salon for the first time at the age of twenty-three. In 1861 he showed The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite, which was purchased by the state for the Luxembourg Gallery. His first characteristic period made him a painter of the charms of women. Demi-mondaine would be more accurate as a description of the series of studies which he called La Remme a Paris.
He fought in the Franco-German War, and, falling under suspicion as a Communist, left Paris for London. Here he studied etching with Sir Seymour Haden, drew caricatures for Vanity Fair, and painted portraits as well as genre subjects.
It was many years before he turned to the chief labor of his career - the production of a series of 700 water-color drawings to illustrate the life of Christ and the Old Testament. Some sudden shock or bereavement was said to have turned his thoughts from ideals of the cafe and the boulevard into a more serious channel. He disappeared from Paris, whither he had returned after a stay of some years in England, and went to Palestine. In 1895 the series of 350 drawings of incidents in the life of Christ was exhibited in Paris, and the following year found them on show in London. They were then published by the firm of Lemercier in Paris, who had paid him 1,100,000 francs for them.
After this he turned to the scenes of the Old Testament, upon which he was still engaged at the abbey of Buillon, in the department of Doubs, France, when he died.
The merits of Tissot's Bible illustrations lay rather in the care with which he studied the details of scenery than in any quality of religious emotion. He seemed to aim, above all, at accuracy, and, in his figures, at a vivid realism, which was far removed from the conventional treatment of sacred types.
James Tissot died on August 8, 1902.