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 Georges de La Tour  (1593 - 1652)

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About: Georges de La Tour
 

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: painting

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from Auction House Records.
SAINT JAMES THE GREAT
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Georges De La Tour was born on March 19, 1593, in the town of Vic-sur-Seille in the duchy of Lorraine in what is now northeastern France.  Both sides of his family were bakers.  Sometime in his teens or early twenties he visited Italy or Holland, or perhaps both.

Whatever native art training he may have had, he now acquired Dutch and Italian accents that stayed with him for the rest of his life.  In 1617 La Tour married Diane Le Terf, daughter of the Duke of Lorraine's finance minister, a nobleman from Luneville.  She was two years his senior; in thirty-five years of marriage, the couple produced ten children. Only three survived into adulthood, two daughters and one son, Etienne, who became a painter and worked with his father but inherited neither his genius nor his drive.

La Tour apparently became popular and successful almost as soon as he settled into Luneville.  The archives tell us he was godfather to the children of many friends and a witness at numerous weddings.  He took on apprentices for good sums paid by their families, and bought property including a fine house.

The dusty old municipal records also reveal a difficult man who, particularly in his later years, was not exactly a model of civic virtue.  There were complaints that he refused to contribute his quota to the poor while a famine raged, that he assaulted a sergeant at arms, and that he administered a savage beating to a peasant.

With a tax exemption usually reserved for nobility, La Tour soon became wealthy.  That, and the fact that he was a favorite of the governor, who added La Tour's paintings to his collection with money levied on the citizens, probably did not endear him to the townspeople.  Nevertheless, he was evidently quite successful; his paintings brought 600 to 700 francs apiece, and sometimes more, a considerable amount in a country torn by war, famine and epidemics of disease.  His success was short-lived, however.  In January 1652 an epidemic struck Luneville and within days had taken both his wife and his valet.  A few days later La Tour was also dead - and, almost as promptly, forgotten.

So little is known about the life of La Tour; we do not even know what he looked like or where he had studied or how much time he spent in Paris.  King Louis XIII of France, a man of impeccable taste, insisted on having in his own bedroom the work of only one artist: Georges De La Tour.  Experiment with light was carried on by scores of early 17th century painters after the example of Caravaggio, but it remained for La Tour, a country artist, to give light a deeply mystical meaning.  He refined his work to make light itself not only a dramatic highlight, but the modeling element and dramatic center of his painting. He went out of favor during the reign of King Louis XIV, who favored the glorifying allegories and myths of the classical style, abhorred naturalism and humanism.

Since the 19th century, scholars have established La Tour's value and have determined that at least twenty-five of the masterworks attributed to Zurburan, Velasquez, Ribera and Murillo (Spanish painters) were in reality La Tour's.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
The Standard Treasury of the World's Great Paintings
Time Magazine, March 4, 1957
M. Therese Southgate, MD, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, May 3, 1995
Article in Art & Antiques Magazine, December 1996

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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