Some 42 works by Georges de La Tour, a major French 17th century painter are being exhibited opened in the Grand Palais in Paris until January 26th 1998.
De La Tour, born in Eastern France on March 14th 1593, was regarded as the French Caravaggio during his lifetime as he was one of the few gifted painters in Europe able to capture light in his paintings.
Little is known of this provincial painter, excepted his marriage with Diane Le Nerf in 1618, a brief visit to Paris in 1639, some bills showing that he was paid huge sums for his works and some accounts relating about the grievances of some of his neighbours about his rigid attitude towards them. De La Tour died in Lunéville, not far from Nancy, on January 30th 1652 and remained totally forgotten until the early years of the 20th century.
De La Tour has since then been hailed as a master of lighting effects created by candles in intimate scenes. Most of his authenticated works are being shown in the Grand Palais and it is the first time in 25 years - since the exhibition held in the Orangerie here - that visitors will have the opportunity to discover such a great master.
The only painting not shown here is the "Saint Jerome reading" which belongs to HM the Queen of England. Otherwise many works have been loaned by several U.S museums for this exhibition as well as two paintings by Caravaggio to enable a close comparison with De La Tour's works.
French specialists stressed that that there are at least 400 works by De La Tour which remain to be rediscovered. The last painting to be recognised as by his hand was offered for sale in the Drouot salesrooms some three years ago at an estimated price of US $ 1600! It was only during the pre-sale visit that some dealers and Pierre Rosenberg, the head of the Louvre Museum, determined that this work representing Saint John the Baptist preaching in the desert was a genuine De La Tour.
The painting was swiftly withdrawn from the sale and sold for
US $ 1,797,910 by Sotheby's in Monaco on December 2nd 1994. Such bid was relatively low (Some of De La Tour's works often reach over US $ 3 million at auction) because it was considered as belonging to the French National Heritage and as such barred from leaving France.
De La Tour depicted nocturnal atmospheres with a regular mania for details regarding the features and attitudes of his characters as well as their clothes. The painter, much admired by king Louis XIII, was after Caravaggio a pioneer in artificial light rendering.
Like Cravaggio, and later Rembrandt and Goya, De La Tour truly put of chiarusco at its height and he was the first to master candle lighting thus giving a new dimension to painting and transforming light into a real colour. He therefore paved the way to new schools such as Impressionism. However, the fact that he was only rediscovered a few decades ago remains a mystery which can only be explained by the absence of true connoisseurs until 1900. One should remember that he was not the only great artist that had been kept in oblivion for years. For instance, Peter de Hooch was far much celebrated in the 1860's than Vermeer whose works were practically unknown at that time painter.
De La Tour's works are mesmerizing in many respects and the lack of information about his life also adds to the mystery surrounding this painter who went against many artistic conventional principles while striving to bring about an unusual form of art. His paintings always invite viewers to guess the story he meant to depict but away from these de La Tour will always remain a mystery to us.