Sunday, March 19, 2017

Georges de La Tour

March 19, 1593. Georges de La Tour (March 19, 1593 - January 30, 1652) was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight. In this image: Harald Marx, left, director of the Old Masters Painting Gallery Dresden, and Stephane Loire, curator of the Louvre, inspect the oil painting "L' adoration des Bergers" (The admiration of the herdsmen) made by George de La Tour in the 17th century, in a studio of the Old Masters Painting Gallery in Dresden, Germany, Friday, Oct. 21, 2005.

de La Tour (1593-1652) was quickly forgotten after his death. Changing taste, such as that of the Rocco for froth and frills, made his more somber and thoughtful works unfashionable. He was never taken up by the court, didn't live in Paris and was, according to some things I've read, a bit of a curmudgeon. de La Tour had to wait until 1972 for some scholarly sleuths to turn up a handful of paintings for a first little show in Paris.

Not much is known of his life except that he worked in the Lorraine region of France, and somehow picked up the influence of Caravaggio. He first painted daylight scenes of mainly lowlife characters, but then, came a sea change and his paintings take on an emotional, interior spiritual tone. His only brush with the court came when Louis XIII bought a painting of his of St. Sebastian.

The Fortune Teller (at the Met)

While an old gypsy crone tells his fortune, a naive youth is robbed by her accomplices, a subject popular among Caravaggesque painters throughout Europe in the seventeenth century. La Tour’s painting can be interpreted as a genre or theatrical scene, or as an allusion to the parable of the prodigal son. The inscription on the painting includes the name of the town where La Tour lived, LunĂ©ville in Lorraine.

One of his early masterpieces—“The Fortune Teller”—deals with cheating and a con directed at a naive, easily cheated character. The painting is brightly colored, the figures move with stylized gestures and there is a web of glances between the main characters.

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds

Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, Louvre

In the 1640's, his work becomes darker, deeper, richer. He loses interest in the criminal underworld and he became a religious painter. Mary Magdalene, the Holy Family, apostles and others are portrayed against  a black/brown background, lit by a single candle. The palate is somber but not depressing and the mood is one of quiet contemplation, light by a solitary fire.

Joseph the Carpenter The Louvre

The Choirboy

It is possible that the horrors of the Thirty Year's War prompted de La Tour to seek a more spiritual meaning in his life, away from the death and destruction. But we don't know for sure. We will never know unless some relevant document emerges from an obscure hiding place.

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

I heard of de La Tour, but had not associated the work with the artist. I've seen some of these paintings before. I love the detail and the lifelike characters. Yes, the work is dark, but I think it was reflective of his time. The religious works I had not seen. I love the way they are lit.