OT: Georges de La Tour (1593 – 1652)

Today the Prado Museum opens to the public the exhibition Georges de La Tour (1593 – 1652), which may be visited up until next 12th June. Georges de La Tour has only recently been discovered in terms of his artistic personality. Little is known of his early training in the Catholic city of Vic-sur-Seille in Lorraine (France), which he must have completed around 1610 when he was aged about 17. Subsequent documentation reveals him as a financially successful painter with a brusque personality but professionally renowned. At the end of his career La Tour was appointed painter to Louis XIII. La Tour lived at a crucial period for the history of Lorraine, which culminated with the loss of the duchy’s political independence. Within this context the artist evolved a painting of surprising lyricism, particularly in his nocturnal scenes, nearly all of them religious. These are almost monochrome works with monumental forms, filled with solitude and silence.

  • Curators: Andrés Úbeda, Museo del Prado Senior Curator Italian and French Painting (to 1700), and Dimitri Salmon Musée du Louvre
  • With the support of fundación AXA.
  • Access: Room C. Jerónimos Building
  • Source: Museo del Prado Website 

Georges_de_La_Tour_029 Georges de La Tour (Vic-sur-Seille, Lorraine, 1593 – Lunéville, Lorraine, 1652) was a French painter celebrated in his own day and subsequently completely forgotten until his rediscovery in the 20th century, firstly by Hermann Voss in 1915. From the time of the exhibition Painters of Reality (1934), La Tour regained a leading position within French painting, which was confirmed by the important acquisition in 1960 of The Fortune Teller by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and by two monographic exhibitions on the artist in 1972 and 1997, both in Paris.

La Tour was born in a town in Lorraine to an old and relatively prosperous family of craftsmen and property owners. Little or nothing is known of his youth and training nor of a possible trip to Italy of the type undertaken by many painters at this period in order to complete their artistic training. Whatever the case, in 1616 La Tour was already a fully trained painter. The following year he married Diana Le Nerf, who was from a wealthy family, and in 1618 he moved to Lunéville. By 1620, La Tour was a resident of the city, leading the life of a prosperous local gentleman. The fame that he soon acquired due to the purchases of his work by the Duke of Lorraine in 1623-1624 was confirmed during the French occupancy of the duchy. La Tour went to Paris in 1639 and was made Painter in Ordinary to the King. Every year he executed a painting for the governor of Lorraine, the maréchal de La Ferté. Other celebrated collectors such as Richelieu, the superintendent of finances Claude de Bullion, the architect Le Nôtre and even Louis XIII possessed works by his hand. La Tour died in 1652, probably during an outbreak of an epidemic, a few days after his wife.

Facts and figures: more than 40 paintings are more or less unanimously considered to be autograph works, while 28 canvases and prints are copies of lost originals. In other words, there are more than 70 known compositions, of which only 4 are dated and only 18 signed. With La Tour’s works, the composition is pared down to its essential details with no anecdotal elements, architecture or landscape, and even the accessories are reduced to the absolutely necessary: his saints usually lack haloes while his angels have no wings. Only two of La Tour’s paintings have a legible date (Saint Peter repentant, 1645, Cleveland Museum of Art, and The Denial of Saint Peter, 1650, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes), for which reason the chronology of his oeuvre continues to be widely debated.

Georges de La Tour in the Museo del Prado. Following the acquisition of The blind Hurdy-gurdy Player in 1991 with funds from the Villaescusa Bequest, the artist’s presence in the Museum was unexpectedly reinforced in 2005 with the deposit of Saint Jerome reading a Letter, a previously unpublished work discovered in the possession of the Ministry of Work by José Milicua, a member of the Prado’s Royal Board of Trustees who died in 2013 and to whom this exhibition is dedicated.

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, c. late 1620s, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Another version (with Diamonds and slightly different clothes) is in the Louvre. Georges de La Tour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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