Curators: Andrés Úbeda, Chief Curator of Italian and French Painting, Museo del Prado, and Dimitri Salmon, Musée du Louvre
The Museo de Prado and Fundación AXA are presenting the most important exhibition to be held in Spain on Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), an artist who was forgotten after his death and was only rediscovered by art historians a hundred years ago. In France, La Tour is considered the most celebrated national artist of the 17th century and one of the most popular in French art of any period, alongside Monet, Renoir and Cézanne.
The present exhibition comprises 31 paintings by La Tour, which is an exceptional number given that only around 40 by his hand survive. They have been loaned from prestigious international institutions such as the Musée du Louvre, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, of which the latter two museums are lending two of the artist’s most essential works, The Fortune Teller and The Cardsharps, respectively. Also fundamental for the organisation of this exhibition has been the generous contribution made by provincial French museums, which house an important number of works by La Tour, as well as the fact that the two recent acquisitions by the Prado of works by the artist (Saint Jerome reading a Letter and The blind Hurdy-gurdy Player) have made the Museum an international reference point for the study of this French painter.
Madrid, 19 February 2016. On 23 February, the Museo del Prado will be opening the exhibition Georges de La Tour. 1593-1652, on display in Room C of its Jerónimos Building. Sponsored by Fundación AXA, the exhibition will allow visitors to discover La Tour’s artistic personality, expressed through both his realist treatment of humble figures and his refined religious scenes. A century after the rediscovery of the artist with the publication of the art historian Hermann Voss’s article in the German publication Archiv für Kunstgeschichte, the Museo del Prado has brought together thirty-one of the forty known works by this painter from Lorraine. Prior to his rediscovery in 1915, La Tour’s works were attributed to other northern painters (particularly his night scenes) and to Spanish artists, principally Zurbarán, Ribera and Velázquez. Saint Jerome reading a Letter in the Prado, for example, has an inscription on the reverse reading “Zurbaran”, to whom it was undoubtedly attributed and which probably explains its presence in a Spanish collection.The present exhibition offers a chronological survey of La Tour’s career, which was directly associated with historical events of his time. 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
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.
The early years
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
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
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.