GEORGES DE LA TOUR
A brief biographical overview
Our first specific information is based on a baptismal certificate issued on 14 March 1593 at Vic-sur-Seuille, Lorraine (NE France), which even notes the father's trade as baker. The ensuing years are less well documented. Most probably, the artist's early education took place in Vic and then, certainly, at the duchy's capital, Nancy.
Although no proof whatsoever exists, there is a good chance that the young painter travelled to Italy, a trip that was in fashion at the time with most people and with his young peers in Lorraine. It was not uncommon for whole groups of his Lorraine co-citizens to take off for Italy, and other artists, such as Jacques Callot, may well have taken him along there.
In any case, one letter mentions him as a student of the Guide's, that is Guido Reni. This discreet reference has served some art historians as grounds for assuming that perhaps La Tour did go to Italy and that, once there, perhaps he spent some time in Guido Reni's workshop and that - again perhaps - he discovered authentic Caravaggism during his short stay in Rome. Other art historians, however, totally deny such a stay and maintain that La Tour never left Lorraine.
The next specific piece of data is that of his wedding date, 2 July 1617. Very shortly thereafter, he and his new wife, Diane Le Nerf, left Vic for his wife's city of origin, LunÚville. Here he began making a reputation for himself and even obtained his first commissions. In no time at all he became a man of some wealth and, true to his Lorraine origins, he knew just how and where to invest his new savings. He ran a strict household: some documents attest to complaints by the couple's house staff about how poorly one ate at the La Tour table. The general gist is that he was of an uncommonly rapacious nature.
He died a rich man in January 1652, of a parapleurisy that seems to have felled eight persons merely in his own household, let alone over 8000 in the city of LunÚville as a whole.
In short, we know but little of this artist. The parish records. Assumptions. Artistic influences...
Strangely enough, testimony by his contemporaries portrays him as a basically unpleasant person - haughty, sharp-tongued, self-assured, unbearably self-sufficient, stingy, and violent beyond measure. Even more strangely, this depiction, except for the stinginess, comes close to fitting Caravaggio. Thus the two painters the most strongly focused on depicting the sacred and the Christian message in all its beauty were both rather despicable.
Caravaggio was despicable and La Tour probably even more so, and both produced extraordinary art transcending their true nature.
La Tour was proud to boast the title of "painter to the King". Historians have scoured the cadastres and other public records to find tangible traces of any interest shown by the old Louis XIII or the young Louis XIV in his work, but their efforts have been entirely fruitless. This gives us pause: was La Tour perhaps inclined to mendacity as well?