His pictures are distinguished most obviously by his love of painting women's costumes: indeed, his work--which has a fashion-plate elegance and a chocolate-box charm-- has probably been more often reproduced in works on the history of costume than on the history of painting. He also, however, had a gift for wittily observing nuances of social behavior. In 1882, following the death of his mistress Kathleen Newton (the archetypal Tissot model-- beautiful but rather vacant), he returned to France. In 1888 he underwent a religious conversion when he went into a church to `catch the atmosphere for a picture', and thereafter he devoted himself to religious subjects. He visited the Holy Land in 1886-87 and in 1889, and his illustrations to the events of the Bible were enormously popular, both in book form and when the original drawings were exhibited.
For many years after his death Tissot was considered a grossly vulgar artist, bug there has been a recent upsurge of interest in him, expressed in sale-room prices for his work as well as in numerous books and exhibitions devoted to him.
Photographs by Mark Harden.
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