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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 war.
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
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:
Discovery of the Body of St. Alexis,
Sebastian with Lantern.
On January 15, 1652 La Tour’s wife, Diane, died. Soon after her, on January
30, La Tour died, deeply depressed.
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
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.
Christ and his Apostles. Little
is known about this series, only 5 originals are preserved. St. James
the Minor and St. Jude Thaddaeus are the only originals exhibited,
as they are in good condition. Three other originals: St. Philippe,
found in 1941, St. Thomas, found in 1991, and St. Andrew,
found in 1991, are in bad condition, and are shown in modern copies.
There are also old copies of Christ and 5 other Apostles, fulfilled
by some Louis and Jacques Bosia; and the paintings of the last 2 Apostles
Georges de La Tour. by I. Nemilova. Leningrad-Moscow. 1958.
Georges de La Tour. by Yu. Zolotov. Moscow. 1979.
Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary.
Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999.
De La Tour and His World by Philip Conisbee (Editor), Georges
Du Mesnil d La Tour. Yale Univ Pr, 1996.
de la Tour by Jacques Thuillier. Flammarion, 2003.