Georges de La Tour
Georges de La Tour was born on March 13, 1593 in the town of Vic-upon-Seille,
in Lorraine. His baptism document indicates that he was the son of Jean
de La Tour, baker, and Sybille de La Tour, née Molian (or Malian). All
Sybille’s parents and siblings were bakers. Jean’s father was a mason,
but he, however, had chosen the profession of his wife’s relatives. Jean
and Sybille had 7 children, Georges was the second one, the children
grew in the wealthy surroundings of well-to-do artisans.
Where was George formed and what was his education, where did he spend
his youth? Maybe in Vic itself, where the Swiss painter Claude Dogoz
lived, or maybe at Nance, at the studio of Jacques Bellange (died in
1616). Maybe he traveled further from his house, even to Italy, but
there is no evidence of it. We do not know where and who trained him.
But there's evidence that young George had friends in the court of the
Duke of Lorraine. In 1617, at the age of 24, he married Diane Le Nerf,
who was born in 1591 into an ennobled family: her father, Jean Le Nerf,
was the treasurer of the Duke of Lorraine and lived in Lunéville. The
young couple settled in Vic in the parental house.
In 1619, their first son, Philippe, was born, and the next year the
family moved to Lunéville. The same, 1620, year the 27-year old La Tour
was apprenticed to Claude Baccarat. It is known that around 1621-23 the
Duke bought a painting by La Tour, and another one in 1624, St. Peter,
which he donated to decorate the church of the convent of Minimes. The
same year the Duke died; with his death, military confrontations for the
domination of Lorraine started among the European monarchs.
Meanwhile the family of the artist grew: in 1621 son Étienne, who would
become an artist, like his father, was born; then, in 1623, daughter
Claude, in 1625, daughter Mary (the 1st), in 1627, daughter Christine,
in 1628, son Louis, in 1630, son Nicolas-George, in 1632, son
André-George, in 1634, daughter Madeleine, in 1636, the second daughter
Mary (d. in 1648), by this time the first Mary had died. The second Mary
was the last child of the 45 year old Diane. In 1631, the war touched
the family. La Tour became the guardian of his nephews Antoine and
François Nardoyen, sons of his wife’s sister, whose husband died in the
At last in 1634, French domination of Lorraine was established, which
brought peace, for at least a short period. The artist, along with other
citizens of Lunéville, took a vow of loyalty to Louis XIII. In the
document of the time he is referred to as ‘the noble George de La Tour’.
It is known
that since 1636, La Tour had his own apprentices. In that year
the plague, which had effected the region of Lorraine
particularly severely, came to Lunéville. It struck La Tour’s
household as well, one of his nephews died. To this period many
art historians refer St. Sebastian Attended by St. Irene. In the
17th century, St. Sebastian was one of the most important of all
patron saints. Prayers were offered to him seeking protection
against disease, especially the plague.
In 1638m Lunéville was sacked and burnt, the house and studio of
the artist with all its pictures were destroyed by fire. The
family found shelter in Nancy.
In 1639, La Tour was in Paris by the king's order. The King
presented him with 1000 francs for some service (what kind of
service it was, is unknown). Though from now on he was referred
to as ‘Sir George de la Tour, painter of his majesty’. In 1645,
the king appointed one Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre the governor
of Lorraine. The new governor loved arts. He immediately
established good relations with La Tour and became his patron.
He commissioned from the artist The Adoration of the Shepherds.
And later he bought many paintings from La Tour, among others
were: The Discovery of the Body of St. Alexis, St. Sebastian
On January 15, 1652 La Tour’s wife, Diane, died. Soon after her,
on January 30, La Tour died, deeply depressed.
In his lifetime La Tour must have been one of the most admired
painters. Not many of his works survived, and these can be
divided into his early ‘day pieces’, and the later ‘night
pieces’. But both attributions (he only rarely signed his work)
and chronological order remain questionable. To 1620-1630 belong
Porridge Eaters, a row of Hurdy-Gurdy Players. The brutal
realism, unflattering presentation of the miserable subjects
does not at all mean a sympathetic attitude to the socially
disadvantaged of the day, on the contrary, issues of this kind
were intended to amuse high society, who enjoyed decorating the
walls of their patrician homes with such melodramatic scenes.
Another modern topic of the day, made popular by Caravaggio, is
also present in La Tour’s works. The Card-Sharp with the Ace of
Diamonds, The Card-Sharp with the Ace of Clubs, and The
Fortune-Teller, compare to Carravaggio’s The Cardsharps (I Bari),
The Fortune-Teller . An inexperienced, wealthy and opulently
dressed young man is being cheated at cards in the dubious
company of a courtesan with her lover and a servant girl. Wine
and the promise of erotic adventure have made the young dandy so
light-headed that he does not notice the unsubtle trick of an
ace being drawn from his opponent's belt. Such depictions
belonged to the moralizing genre.
Most of the canvases by La Tour we have at our disposal the art
historians date after 1640. In these works La Tour is captivated
with lightning effects, which do not create blurred forms but
sharp contours instead. Repenting Magdalene, St. Joseph, the
Carpenter. This fascination with light brought him great success
in his day. However, he was completely forgotten after his
death, only to be rediscovered in our own day.
La Tour is an example of how artists can pass in and out of
fashion and favor of the public.