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Chrysler Museum of Art Presents "The Life of Christ" During Lent

James Tissot Exhibition to run March 23 - June 5, 2011

Norfolk, Va. – (February 2011) – To coincide with the Lenten season, the Chrysler unveils an exhibition devoted to one of the most artful, dramatic, and influential visualizations of the Early Christian story ever created by a European or American artist. James Tissot’s The Life of Christ features more than 150 brilliantly conceived watercolors produced by that French painter in preparation for his mammoth, three-volume publication of the New Testament. Also called the Tissot Bible, the richly illustrated publication appeared in Paris in 1896 and shortly after in England and America. It quickly became an international sensation. The exhibition will be on view March 23 to June 5, 2011. Admission is free for Museum Members and children 12 and younger and $5 for all others.

This special exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum, which possesses all but a handful of the 365 watercolors that Tissot produced to illustrate his book. The selection of paintings embraces the whole of the New Testament narrative, moving from Christ’s infancy and ministry to the culminating events of his Passion and Resurrection. But whatever the moment depicted, Tissot brings to his work an artistic and technical brilliance, an almost cinematic richness of detail, a sense of drama and psychological insight, and a degree of archeological exactness seldom found in earlier depictions of the theme. Indeed, to make his illustrations of the Bible as authentic as possible, Tissot traveled to the Middle East three times in the late 1880s and early 1890s. He visited Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon and obsessively sketched the landscape and people there to get a real sense of how it and they might have looked in early Christian times.

When the artist first exhibited his watercolors in Paris in 1894, the effect on visitors was instantaneous and dramatic. Newspapers at the time reported that his exhibition sparked religious revivals, and that some visitors toured the shows weeping and on their knees, as if on a pilgrimage. Their artistic impact would reach well into the 20th century and all the way to Hollywood, where Technicolor spectaculars like “Ben Hur” and even “Raiders of the Lost Ark “liberally quoted from Tissot’s Bible illustrations. James Tissot: The Life of Christ brilliantly captures the look and feel of an ancient era that set the stage for so much of the Western cultural and spiritual experience.

James Tissot: The Life of Christ is organized by The Brooklyn Museum and is made possible, in part, by a generous award by the National Endowment for the Arts. Local presentation is made possible through the generous support of anonymous friends of the Museum.

Program Highlights

Curator’s Lecture
Sunday, April 17, 3 p.m.
Join Chief Curator Jeff Harrison for a deeper glimpse at the life and work of James Tissot on this Palm Sunday afternoon. Free for Museum Members, included with paid admission to the exhibition

Second-Saturday Family Day
Saturday, April 9, 12-3 p.m.
Tissot and Watercolors by the Hague (Admission to the exhibition will be free.)
Silent Film
Wednesday, April 20, 7-8 p.m.
La Vie du Christ (The Life of Christ)
This silent cinematic classic by Alice Guy Blaché, the first female film director, drew inspiration from James Tissot’s watercolor series The Life of Christ. Live piano music by Chuck Woodward will accompany the 1906 film (34 mins. not rated). The cost is free.

About the Artist
James Jacques Joseph Tissot was born at Nantes, France in 1836. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Before exploring more serious topics, he drew caricatures for Vanity Fair and painted portraits and various other subjects. The Chrysler Museum of Art’s collection includes Tissot’s painting The Artists Wives.

About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums with a world-class collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The Museum is located at 245 West Olney Road in Norfolk and is open Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. The Chrysler is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as on major holidays. Admission to the Museum’s collection is free. Special exhibitions may have an admission fee. For exhibitions, programming, and special events, visit or call 757-664-6200.

Contact Cindy Mackey

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