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Georges de La Tour. 1593 - 1652

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 2/23/2016 - 6/12/2016

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, Chief Curator of Italian and French Painting, Museo del Prado, and Dimitri Salmon, Musée du Louvre.

Access

Room C. Jerónimos Building

Supported by:
Fundación AXA

Multimedia

Exhibition

The early years

The early years
The Musicians’ Brawl.
Georges de La Tour.
Oil on canvas, 85,7 x 141 cm.
Los Ángeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 72.PA.28.

Despite doubts about the chronology of La Tour’s paintings, it has always been considered that the most realist ones are the earliest, which must have been produced at the end of the second decade of the 17th century. During this period the artist painted biblical and religious figures of humble appearance, such as those to be seen in the Albi Apostle series, of which four are included in this exhibition; ragged beggars, such as The Pea Eaters in Berlin; and poor, rowdy street musicians, as in The Musicians’ Brawl (Los Angeles). Worthy of separate mention are An old Man and An old Woman from San Francisco, which are more refined in character, and The Money Lender (Lviv), the artist’s first known nocturnal scene.

Replicas and series

Replicas and series
Penitent Saint Jerome.
Georges de La Tour.
Oil on canvas, 157 x 100 cm.
Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble. Saisie de l ? Etat Inventorié en 1797.

In the third decade of the 17th century La Tour’s technique evolved towards flatter, more watercolour-like brushstrokes resulting in more luminous paintings. At this date his originality and virtuosity reached their maximum expression in his daytime scenes. In addition, the physical types become less rough and the actions undertaken by the figures more serene and dignified. A surprisingly obsessive repetition of types is evident, as in The penitent Saint Jerome (Grenoble and Stockholm), or The Cardsharps (Fort Worth and Paris), in addition to the numerous versions of the hurdy-gurdy player and Mary Magdalene.

In the first two cases the compositions are extremely similar, while the other two are original reinterpretations of the theme, to which the artist returned over the course of his career.

The final years

The final years
The Newborn Child.
Georges de La Tour.
Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm.
Rennes, Musée des Beaux Arts.

No convincing reason has been offered as to why, at the end of his career, La Tour focused on nocturnal religious paintings. His celebrated, seemingly simple night scenes with their silent, moving atmosphere, include figures that magically emerge from rooms filled with silence, painted in an almost monochrome palette and with geometrical forms. The complete absence of haloes or other religious attributes and the humble figure types explain why some nocturnal episodes such as The Adoration of the Shepherds (Musée du Louvre) and The newborn Child (Rennes) have been read in secular terms.

At the end of his life the artist is recorded as living in Lunéville as a respected member of the community with an enviable social and economic status.

Georges de La Tour in the Museo del Prado

Georges de La Tour in the Museo del Prado
A blind Hurdy-gurdy Player.
Georges de La Tour.
Oil on canvas, 86 x 62,5 cm.
Museo Nacional 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.

Georges de La Tour

Georges de La Tour
The Fortune Teller.
Georges de La Tour.
Oil on canvas, 102 x 123 cm.
New York, Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1960 (60.30).

Vic-sur-Seille, Lorraine, 1593 – Lunéville, Lorraine, 1652

La Tour 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.

La Tour painted both daytime and nocturnal scenes, which he approached differently. The former are characterised by their cool, clear light and the sharpness of the brushstroke and precision in the portrayal of the figures, with their wrinkles and rags recorded with the tip of the brush. In the nocturnal scenes, almost always lit by a candle, the limited colour range is often reduced to a dialogue between grey-brown tones and vermillion, while the volumes are pared down to a few simple planes. In La Tour’s final period this economy of means gives rise to the creation of highly meditative works with an illumination that could be described as metaphysical and which increasingly moves the models away from reality. No gesture or movement disturbs the introspection of the figures, turned in on themselves, self-absorbed and reflexive.

Artworks

1

The Pea Eaters

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 90.8 cm.

Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

2

Girl Blowing on a Brazier

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 67 x 55 cm.

Private Collection

Saint Jerome Reading a Letter
3

Saint Jerome Reading a Letter

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 59.5 cm.

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado. Depósito del Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales

4

5

Saint James the Lesser

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm.

Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec

Hurdy-Gurdy Player with a Dog
6

Hurdy-Gurdy Player with a Dog

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 186 x 120 cm

Bergues, Musée du Mont-de-piète-Ville de Bergues

7

Boy Blowing on a Charcoal Stick

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm.

Dijon, Musée des beaux-arts de Dijon (Donation Granville)

Job and his Wife
8

Job and his Wife

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 145 x 99 cm.

Épinal, Musée départemental d'art ancien et contemporain

Penitent Saint Jerome
9

Penitent Saint Jerome

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 157 x 100 cm.

Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble. Saisie de l'Etat Inventorié en 1797

The Flea Catcher
10

The Flea Catcher

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Nancy, Collection Palais des ducs de Lorraine – Musée Lorrain

11

Hurdy-Gurdy Player with a Fly

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 162 x 105 cm.

Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes

The Angel Appears to Saint Joseph
12

The Angel Appears to Saint Joseph

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 93 x 81 cm.

Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes

13

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 106 x 146 cm.

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures. Acquis en 1972

Saint Joseph the Carpenter
14

Saint Joseph the Carpenter

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 137 x 102 cm.

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures. Donation Percy Moore Turner, 1948

15

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 107 x 131 cm.

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures. Acquis en 1926

The Newborn Child
16

The Newborn Child

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm.

Rennes, Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes

17

Saint John the Baptist in the Desert

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 81 x 101 cm.

Moselle, Musée départemental Georges de la Tour

18

Saint Jerome Reading

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 62 x 55 cm.

Lent by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

19

Penitent Saint Jerome

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 152 x 109 cm.

Estocolmo, Nationalmuseum

20

Saint Andrew

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 47.5 cm.

Private collection

21

The Payment of Money

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 99 x 152 cm.

Lviv National Art Gallery named after B.G. Voznytskyi

22

Repentant Saint Peter

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 114 x 95 cm.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1951.454

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs
23

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 97.8 x 156.2 cm.

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

24

The Musicians’ Brawl

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 85.7 x 141 cm.

Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum

25

The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 117 x 91.76 cm.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation

26

Saint Philip

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 63 x 53 cm.

Norfolk, Virginia, Chrysler Museum of Art

The Fortune Teller
27

The Fortune Teller

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 102 x 123 cm.

Nueva York, Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1960 (60.30)

28

Saint James the Greater

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 65 x 52 cm.

Mark Fisch

29

Old Woman

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 60 cm.

San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Collection

30

Old Man

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 91.1 x 60.3 cm.

San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Collection

The Repentant Magdalene
31

The Repentant Magdalene

Georges de La Tour

Oil on canvas, 113 x 92.7 cm.

Washington D. C., National Gallery of Art, Washington. Alisa Mellon Bruce Fund

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