Skip Navigation

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l'enfant prodigue)

James Tissot

European Art

In this parable, a young man leaves the comfort of family, wanders foreign lands, and resorts to begging after wasting a fortune through debauchery. Returning, he receives the embrace of his father, who warmly welcomes him home despite his mistakes, prompting the young man to repent the rejection of his family.

Tissot had treated the Prodigal Son subject several times before, first in the guise of early historicizing scenes that helped establish his career and then, in the early 1880s, as a series of paintings and later etchings set in Victorian England. As many scholars have pointed out, the parable may have had a particular autobiographical resonance for Tissot, who had left his homeland—trading his native France for England during the 1870s—and who had a reputation for scandalous romances and luxurious living before a return to the faith of his youth with The Life of Christ.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1886-1894
    DIMENSIONS Image: 8 11/16 x 5 1/2 in. (22.1 x 14 cm) Sheet: 8 11/16 x 5 1/2 in. (22.1 x 14 cm) Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)
    SIGNATURE Signed bottom left: "J.J. Tissot"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 00.159.185
    CREDIT LINE Purchased by public subscription
    RECORD COMPLETENESS
    Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.