Gaspard de Latoix (1858 – 1918)
by Steve Holmes
Gaspard de Latoix began his trek to locate the American Southwest from England in the 1880s. Among the pueblo native American Indians of New Mexico, Latoix captured on canvas the spirit of proud, vibrant Indian cultures depicted in a highly realistic artistic style.
Gaspard de Latoix was indeed a rare breed. After all he was among the most gifted of artists – a natural hand for sketching, a talent for portraying light and shadow, an innate sense of proportion rendered with the sensitivity of an artist bringing his subject matter to life for all who witness his work. Born Gaspard Joseph de Latoix in 1858 in Leamington, Warwickshire, England, to a Swiss father engaged as a butler and a French mother, a dressmaker, certainly not a background that would propel him to the fine arts, at least not without his gift to sketch. His father became a naturalized British resident a dozen years later and remained in Leamington. The eldest of three children, Latoix’s youngest sister died at an early age leaving Gaspard and his other sister with less than pleasant early memories that arguably influenced his election to only marry late in life and his sister’s chosen path as a spinster. Like her brother, Gaspard’s sister too heard a calling to the creative arts, and trained as a musician, taught music and later became the church organist. The family was devoutly Roman Catholic and it was a strong sense of loyalty to his family that brought Gaspard back from London in 1897 to his home in Leamington to be with his father at the time of his death that year.
Absent that sense of loyalty to family, Gaspard was a free spirit yearning to commit to canvas all that there was to see, wherever he could find that sense of emotion and realism he so delicately and ingeniously layered onto his substrates. He first described himself as an artist when he was about 22 around 1880. While his early artistic training is not known, many believe that he was self-taught, albeit local artists may have befriended him. Gaspard remained rooted near Leamington until about 1882 or 1883, drawing and painting nearby scenes of buildings of classical antiquities. Soon, however, he began periodic excursions around the country as well as continental Europe – executing scenes from Cornwall, Wales, and later Pont-Aven and Venice. His work was so highly regarded that he was exhibiting both locally and as well as in the English Royal Academy.
By the mid 1880s Latoix’s sense of adventure bought him to the U.S. It was in New York that he bonded with Isabelle de Lancey-Ward, then or later a divorcee and a sometimes artist, born in that state. She called herself by his family name but they did not marry until 1908. (Divorce records or evidence of children from her first marriage remain unknown.)
Both Latoix and Isabelle were seemingly drawn to the American West. Here Latoix found his true passion – evidencing the American Indians of the great plains and most notably the pueblo Indians of New Mexico at about the same time as other famed artists of the period were similarly engaged, notably Frank Sauerwein and Charles Craig, well before the Taos Founders emerged.
Latoix worked in both oil and watercolor, with substrates of both canvas and artistboard. His hard-edged realistic style was frequently executed with photographic-like detail. Many believe that his Indian watercolors are among his finest works, with Latoix’s oils arguably slightly stiffer in their execution. Latoix’s works are distinctly signed, however, like many artists of the period, at least four variations are known. Likewise due to the very fine nature of his work, period photogravures were published by certain London galleries and American publishers, including The Great Divide Publishing Co. in Denver, Colorado. In 1892 Latoix exhibited a rendering of an armed, horse-mounted Apache Indian at the National Academy of Design. That same year he exhibited at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago and in 1894 he exhibited at the Boston Art Club.
By 1897 Latoix was back in England living near Silchester, the Roman city excavated soon thereafter, near Reading on the Hants-Berks border. At the same time Latoix maintained a series of London addresses. He exhibited paintings of the Silchester area at Dowdeswell in 1899.
Interestingly, in his short tenure in America, Latoix gained critical acclaim by the elite of the era. In his two volume treatise A History of American Art published in Boston in 1901, noted author Sadakichi Hartmann stated “The number of our American artists who have made the Indians their special genre is very limited. There are W. Gary, H. F. Farny, E. W. Deming, Rudolf Cronau, Gaspard Latoix and De Cost Smith.” How perceptions change over time, typically a result of promotional efforts!
Latoix appears to have left the Silchester area in England, including Basingstoke, in the early years of the twentieth century, his permanent address thereafter less than clear. Perhaps he and Isabelle led a nomadic, peripatetic life and as well perhaps they again visited New Mexico. Yet we know that Latoix exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1903, was commissioned to paint a robed portrait of King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace in 1905 and married Isabelle in London three years later in 1908, a ceremony witnessed by Arthur Louis Townshend and his wife. Townshend was another extremely talented artist whose fondest subject matter was the horse. The last exhibition record of Latoix is of a New Mexico scene exhibited in London in 1910.
Sadly Latoix’s wife died childless in 1915 - it’s clear that he was present at her death. Distraught, by 1918 Latoix was wandering the streets of London in an incoherent and pathetic manner, with blistered feet, beseeching a policeman to assist him in locating a bank. The police thought he was so odd in manner that Latoix was admitted to a London workhouse.
From his behavior there, where he is recorded as having no sense of place or time and not making coherent conversation, he was quickly sent to the workhouse infirmary. All in all, within 10 days of being admitted, he was relocated to a county lunatic asylum, where he passed on a few months later, penniless and without friend or family. A photograph in has last days’ shows him as severely emaciated yet he was then still able to describe himself as an “etcher.”
His works live on however - vividly rendered and highly sought after exquisite reminders of an era long since gone, yet far from forgotten.
Assuredly nothing beyond this writing has been either researched or committed to paper as to Gaspard de Latoix – prior information as to Latoix is limited to no more than a sentence suggesting that little is known of the artist.
Much of the information in the above biography was taken from research
by Mr. John F. Apgar with Susan Newman, and not initially credited to
them. As of March 13, 2011, this credit was added.