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The Magdalene Before Her Conversion (Madeleine avant sa conversion )

James Tissot

European Art

Apart from Jesus, Mary Magdalene is the only individual in Tissot’s series accorded more than one study, or portrait—an exception that announces her importance, not only to the narrative itself but also to the artist. As scholars have suggested, Tissot appears to have modeled the Magdalene’s features after his late mistress, Mrs. Kathleen Newton, who had died of tuberculosis in 1882. Like many in the nineteenth century, the painter was particularly interested in the occult, and he had attended séances in hopes of establishing contact with the spirit of his deceased beloved.

In the image depicting her before her conversion, Mary Magdalene appears dressed in a colorful striped garment and adorned with jewels, her gaze directed unabashedly toward the viewer. Tissot’s commentary provides a brief biography of her unhappy marriage to a harsh and unyielding Pharisee and her subsequent unfaithfulness.

In The Repentant Magdalene, she now wears the veil of a penitent. Her eyes are humbly lowered, avoiding the gaze of the viewer, and her long hair is pulled back in accordance with Jewish custom.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1886–1894
    DIMENSIONS Image: 11 1/16 x 5 1/2 in. (28.1 x 14 cm) Sheet: 11 1/16 x 5 1/2 in. (28.1 x 14 cm) Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed bottom left: "J.J. Tissot"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    ACCESSION NUMBER 00.159.154
    CREDIT LINE Purchased by public subscription
    PROVENANCE 1900, purchased from the artist by the Brooklyn Museum.
    Provenance FAQ
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION James Tissot (Nantes, France, 1836–1902, Chenecey–Buillon, France). The Magdalene Before Her Conversion (Madeleine avant sa conversion ), 1886–1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 11 1/16 x 5 1/2 in. (28.1 x 14 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.154 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.154_PS1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 00.159.154_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2006
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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