The bible tells us that Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, which follows thusly: a man had two sons and split the sons’ inheritance between them. The older son continued to work his family’s fields, while the younger went off and squandered his inheritance partying in a few short years. Broke and desperate, the younger son returned home to his father. Surprisingly, the father was overjoyed to see him. He held a feast that night and killed the fatted calf in the younger’s honour. When the older son returned from the fields he heard celebration. A servant told him that the younger brother had come home. The elder was angry and refused to enter the house. He had worked hard all those years and his father never celebrated him. The father came out of the house and told him “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found.”
Tissot paints the scene as contemporary; the prodigal son returns home to the quay at Rotherhithe on the Thames.