In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Georges de La Tour

  • Introduction
  • Monographs
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Rediscovery
  • Documentary Sources
  • Influences
  • Visual and Stylistic Studies
  • Technical Studies
  • Daylight Works
  • Nocturnal Works
  • The Spirituality of Devotion

Renaissance and Reformation Georges de La Tour
by
Dalia Judovitz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0454

Introduction

Georges de La Tour’s (b. 1593–d. 1652) artistic contributions were largely ignored by posterity until his “rediscovery” in 1915 by the art historian Hermann Voss. The patronage of such luminaries as the Duke of Lorraine, King Louis XIII, and Cardinal Richelieu, and the plethora of early copies, attest to his success during his lifetime. His eventual lapse into obscurity lasting almost three centuries led to the reattribution of his works to Italian, Netherlandish, Spanish, or French Baroque painters. While more than seventy oil paintings have been attributed to La Tour, fewer than forty are accepted as originals. The existence of his paintings in two or more versions, some as autograph replicas or as copies, along with questions about his son Étienne de La Tour’s possible pictorial contributions, left the attribution and chronology of his works mired in conjecture and controversy. Born the second son of a baker of some means at Vic-sur-Seille, he married a widow of minor nobility in 1617. Resettling to Luneville in the Duchy of Lorraine, he gained recognition as a painter in a region devastated by the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). A casualty of an epidemic, La Tour died a few days after his wife at the height of his artistic career. The scarcity of documentary sources about his life is compounded by the total absence of evidence concerning his artistic training, professional travels, and artistic influences. La Tour’s pursuit of likeness between image and the natural world is believed to bear the influence of Caravaggio or his followers, reflecting post-Tridentine calls for the revitalization of religious imagery. La Tour’s paintings have been traditionally divided into daylight and night-time works, despite notable exceptions. Depictions of daylight serve to bring into moralizing relief foibles of secular life shown in realist genre scenes of brawling, cheating, and fortune-telling. Biblically inspired, his mysterious nocturnal or tenebrist works glow with a poetic luminosity imbued with spiritual connotations. Suspended in the stillness of religious contemplation, his candlelight paintings bear witness to the presence of inner life, depicting modes of consciousness that painting may only suggest but cannot ultimately show. Celebrated for their aura of mystery, his paintings continue to invite scholarly interest and public fascination.

Monographs

Scholarly monographs and exhibition catalogues have played an influential role in La Tour’s presentation to scholars and the broader public. The monographs selected for the most part include presentations of the painter’s life accompanied by interpretive analyses of his works. Full, authoritative art-historical accounts in French can be found in large-format monographs, notably the groundbreaking study Pariset 1948, the summary of his life and works in Rosenberg and Macé de L’Épinay 1973, the magisterial volume Thuillier 2002, and most recently, the comprehensive account Fohr 2018, which updates the scholarship and pictorial references. An indispensable biographical account is in Reinbold 1991. A readable overview of his life and works in small format can be found in Choné 1996, also in French. There are some excellent studies available in English, namely Furness 1949, an inaugural volume that outlines key issues in a pictorial corpus still under construction. An authoritative introduction and discussion of his works can be found in Nicolson and Wright 1974, in English. A thematic analysis of depicted figures and their Baroque stylistic implications is presented in Le Floch 1995, in French. A detailed analysis of La Tour’s treatment of light, critique of sight, and pictorial strategies can be found in Judovitz 2018, in English.

  • Choné, Paulette. Georges de La Tour: Un peintre lorrain au XVIIe siècle. Tournai, Belgium: Casterman, 1996.

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    Presenting a useful overview of the painter’s life and works based on solid scholarly research, this volume places special emphasis on La Tour’s regional sources and development as a painter in Lorraine.

  • Fohr, Robert. Georges de La Tour: Le maître des nuits. Paris: Cohen & Cohen, 2018.

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    This richly illustrated and carefully researched large-format monograph combines a well-documented narrative of La Tour’s life with revealing insights on his works. An impressive array and display of comparative paintings enhances the scope of the analysis. It is a revised, augmented, and updated re-edition of Georges de La Tour: Le maître des nuits (Paris: Adam Biro, 1997). In French.

  • Furness, M. S. S. Georges de La Tour of Lorraine 1593–1652. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.

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    Overlooked, but still-relevant inaugural monograph published in English on La Tour is grounded in extensive research built on the findings of Pariset 1948. Summing up the essentials about the painter’s life, it provides insightful discussions on the pictorial style and content of his works.

  • Judovitz, Dalia. Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018.

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    A comprehensive study of La Tour’s treatment of light and pictorial strategies follows a brief introduction to his life and works. Complementing an analysis of the illusionism and deceptive character of the Baroque visual image, this study breaks new ground by exploring instances of pictorial self-awareness.

  • Le Floch, Jean-Claude. Le signe de contradiction: Essai sur Georges de La Tour et son œuvre. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1995.

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    Focused primarily on La Tour’s paintings, this volume approaches with insight and finesse La Tour’s style and choice of subject matter in terms of Baroque aesthetics, revealing patterns of ambiguity and contradiction that pervade his works.

  • Nicolson, Benedict, and Cristopher Wright. Georges de La Tour. New York: Phaidon, 1974.

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    By-now-classic monograph in large format introduced La Tour’s life and works to Anglo-American audiences. It brings together biographical and pictorial concerns, attempts to construct a chronology of his works, and provides a catalogue of his works.

  • Pariset, François-Georges. Georges de La Tour. Paris: Henri Laurens, 1948.

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    This foundational scholarly work provides an extensive account of La Tour’s life, painterly influences, and historical context along with pictorial interpretations built around key themes which help organize his works. It continues to be an important scholarly resource.

  • Reinbold, Anne. Georges de La Tour. Paris: Fayard, 1991.

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    An influential biography based on extensive archival research outlines with historical precision and insight the state of knowledge about the painter’s life, social connections, and cultural milieu in Lorraine.

  • Rosenberg, Pierre, and François Macé de L’Épinay. Georges de La Tour: Vie et œuvre. Fribourg, Switzerland: Office du Livre, 1973.

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    A presentation of the artist’s life and accompanying catalogue provides an overview of his pictorial corpus. Discussions regarding the dating, provenance, and prior exhibition of these works delineate the state of research at the time.

  • Thuillier, Jacques. Georges de La Tour. Translated by Fabia Claris. Paris: Flammarion, 2002.

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    This magisterial, large-format monograph on La Tour in English surveys the painter’s life and works. Insightful analyses are accompanied by extensive illustrations and enlargements of pictorial details. This is an updated translation and re-edition of a volume originally published in French in 1992 that reprised his earlier catalogue of La Tour’s works, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Georges de La Tour (Paris: Flammarion, 1973).

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