Born on 19 March 1591: Dirk
Hals, Dutch painter who died on 17 May 1656, brother of
Hals. Dirk Hals studied under Abraham
The Merry Company (42x77cm) another Merry Company (45x67cm) _ Dirk Hals was apprenticed to his older brother Frans. Yet while Frans Hals specialized in portraiture, Dirck Hals concentrated primarily on genre paintings and conversation pieces in the manner of Esasias van de Velde and Willem Pietersz. Buytewech. From the 1620s onwards, he frequently had the figures in his paintings added by his own specialist, Dirck van Deelen. He preferred a courtly setting and noble society, whereas his several versions of the Merry Company follows in the tradition of the brothel painting and the tale of the prodigal son. The bed on the left in the background, and the body language of the couples leave us in little doubt as to the situation. At the same time, however, this is also a "five senses" scene: not only is the sense of touch satisfied, but there is also music and singing, smoking and drinking, while the eyes feast on an empty jug or a bodice. The interior also gives us an idea of how paintings were displayed in Holland at the time. They have been hung on a shabby wall without any evident system: a landscape, a marine painting, a portrait. It is clear that paintings had by now become objects to be taken for granted. Some might be cheaper or more expensive, better or worse painted than others, but they were no longer laden with iconographic significance.
Seated Man Smoking a Pipe The Fête Champêtre (1627)
Born on 19 March 1853: Ferdinand
Hodler, Swiss Art
Nouveau painter, who died on 19 May 1918.
From 1871-78 Hodler studied in Geneva with Barthélémy Menn, a pupil of Ingres and a friend of Corot. He travelled in Switzerland and Spain and discovered the works of Dürer, Holbein and Raphael. Began his Symbolist period with Night, which won him international repute. Hodler exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais, the Rose+Croix and the Vienna, Munich and Berlin Sezession. The coherence of his compositions was based on repeated lines, volumes and colors, a method he termed "parallelism".
Night (1890, 116x299cm) _ This painting according to Hodler does not represent a particular night, but the totality of diverse nocturnal impressions. The key idea is that sleep prefigures death. The central figure is a sleeper in the throes of a nightmare; his wracked body and twisted features also seem to express fear at the coming of death. Thus the inscription on the frame: 'More than one man has gone to sleep calmly in the evening not to wake up again in the morning'.
Day I (1900, 160x340cm) The Chosen One _ The Chosen One (1903) The Convalescent (1880) Louise-Delphine Duchosal (1885) Surprised by the Storm (1887) Emotion (1902)
Born on 19 March 1601: Alonso
Cano, Spanish sculptor, painter, architect, and draftsman,
who died on 03 September 1667.
Cano was a , sometimes called the Spanish Michelangelo because of the diversity of his talents. He was born and died in Granada, and worked there and in Seville and Madrid. His movements were partly dictated by his tempestuous character, for more than once he fled or was expelled from the city he was working in (once for the suspected murder of his wife). In spite of his violent temperament, his work tends to be serene and often sweet.
He studied painting in Seville with Pacheco (Velázquez was his fellow-student) and sculpture with Montáñez, and stayed in the city from 1614 to 1638, when he moved to Madrid to become painter to the Count-Duke Olivares and was employed by Philip IV to restore pictures in the royal collection. Thus he became acquainted with the work of the 16th-century Venetian masters, whose influence is apparent in his later paintings; they are much softer in technique than his earlier pictures, which are strongly lit in the manner of Zurbarán.
From 1652 he worked mainly in Granada, where he designed the façade of the cathedral (1667), one of the boldest and most original works of Spanish Baroque architecture. He was ordained a priest in 1658, as this was necessary for him to further his career at Granada Cathedral. The cathedral has several of Cano's works in painting and sculpture, including a polychrome wooden statue of the Immaculate Conception (1655) that is sometimes considered his masterpiece.
The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel (1649, 178x121cm) The Miracle at the Well (1647, 216x149cm) Eve (1666) Immaculate Conception (1648) St John the Evangelist on Pathmos (1648, 218x153cm) San Vicente Ferrer Predicando
Descent into Limbo (1640) _ From 1640 on, Cano's technique became increasingly pictorial, that is to say, increasingly Baroque, acquiring some of the subtleties he had previously ignored. Perhaps his most important painting is the Descent into Limbo, a strange, rather illustrative composition, anecdotal in the movement imparted to the figures, but including one of the rare, and one of the most beautiful female nudes in Spanish art.
Mary (1648, 49x43cm) _ Probably a fragment of a larger painting. There are two somewhat similar representations of Mary by Cano, both are darker than this intimate picture painted with devotion.
Noli me Tangere (1640, 142x110cm) _ Cano was a painter, sculptor and architect and worked for varying periods in nearly every large town in Spain Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Toledo. His oeuvre is very rich, though more restricted in range than that of Velázquez or Murillo, for he painted almost exclusively religious subjects, keeping strictly to the accepted ecclesiastical tradition. Cano never went to Italy but was strongly influenced by the Italian masterpieces in the Spanish royal collection. The composition of Noli me Tangere owes much to the inspiration of Correggio's 1525 painting of the same subject, which was in Madrid at that time, and the coloring shows the influence of Venetian masters, especially Titian.
Other paintings of Noli me Tangere, by:
Titian Giotto di Bondone _ another by Giotto di Bondone Fra Angelico Agnolo Bronzino Maurice Denis Giovanni Battista Franco Hans Holbein Jr. Andrea Mantegna Anton Raphael Mengs Nicolas Poussin Tilman Riemenschneider Giovanni Francesco Rustici Pontormo (after Michelangelo)
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on 19 March before 1638: Paulus Moreelse
(or Morselszen), Dutch artist born in 1571. Studied under Abraham
Bloemaert and Michiel
Miereveld. [Did he tell prospective buyers: Pay me more, else
I don't sell.?]
Moreelse was a painter and architect, active in Utrecht, where he helped found the St Lucas guild in 1611. He is best known for his portraits, which are similar to those made by his teacher Miereveld, but less severe. His portraits of shepherds and blonde shepherdesses with a deep decolletage were popular during his lifetime. He designed the Catherine Gate (destroyed) and possibly the façade of the Meat Market in Utrecht.
Shepherdess Portrait of a Man (1640) Portrait of a Woman (1640)
Sophia Hedwig, Countess of Nassau Dietz, with her Three Sons (1621) _ Moreelse practiced his master's (Michiel van Miereveld) portrait style in Utrecht with equal dexterity, less severity, and greater versatility. He helped initiate the vogue for pastoral genre pictures and arcadian portraits. His historiated portrait of Countess Sophia Hedwig shows her with her three sons in the role of Charity. Her bare breast and the accompanying children are traditional attributes of Charity, the virtue she is personifying. She is depicted wearing a quasioriental costume and jewelled headdress, her two eldest sons wear antique tunics, and her lightly draped youngest son wears the two strings of pearls which he was adorned when Morelsee portrayed him when he was twenty-nine weeks old. In the background there is a muse holding a baby thought to be Sophia's daughter born November 1620.
on 19 January 1864: Charles Marion Russell, great
US Western artist, in
St. Louis, Missouri. ^top^
According to family lore, Charlie Russell displayed an aptitude for art from a young age, reportedly drawing pictures and modeling in wax when he was a small child. At 16 years old, Russell's parents sent him to Montana under the care of a sheepherder. The independent young man struck out on his own soon after, finding work as a cowboy in the booming Montana ranching industry. During long, often tedious days watching over cattle on the open range, Russell sketched the scenes around him. In the winter, when many cowboys were unemployed, Russell lived in various frontier towns and painted pictures to pay for his food and lodging.
Friends said Russell also began carrying modeling clay with him during this time, making small sculptures during his spare moments. Russell likely would have continued as an itinerant cowboy and amateur artist for the rest of his life had he not met a young woman named Mary Cooper. In 1896, the couple married, and Russell's new wife began to guide him toward a serious career in art. Russell found there was a growing market, especially among wealthy East Coast residents, for images of the disappearing American frontier.
By 1920, he was making frequent trips to New York to paint western pictures for an increasing number of supportive patrons. Russell rarely painted or sculpted from models or from life, relying on memory to recreate scenes from the life he had experienced. He had no real art training and little interest in the formal aesthetics of art.
Though critics often ignored or derided his work, the public loved it. Initially, Russell's paintings and sculptures documented his early life as a cowboy, but later in his career, he also began to depict scenes from the lives of American Indians and historical figures. Many of his later paintings express Russell's melancholy attachment to the unspoiled West and his dislike of the "progress" that had plowed under the Great Plains and fenced in the open range. Russell spent his final years in Great Falls, Montana, where he continued to paint until his death in 1926.
C.M. Russell Biographical Information:
Great Falls (MT) Chamber of Commerce / Charles M. Russell, Legacy / Information from the Richardson Museum / Information from the Frye Art Museum
C.M. Russell Art:
Illustrations from A Most Desperate Situation / Antelope / Spearing a Buffalo / The Signal Fire / Redman of the Plains / The Death Song of Lone Wolf / Various Russell Works / The Buffalo Hunt / Man Killer / Works from the Richardson Museum / War Council on the Plains
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on 19 March 1997: Willem de Kooning, 92,
in East Hampton, NY, Dutch US Abstract
Expressionist painter born on 24 April 1904, husband of Elaine
Fried de Kooning (12 Mar 1920 01 Feb 1989)
Willem de Kooning, pintor holandés, nacionalizado estadounidense.
De Kooning is one of the greatest Abstract Expressionist painters of the post-World War II period, his dominance rivaled perhaps only by Jackson Pollock. Remembered for his large canvases as well as the controversial melding of both abstract and figurative imagery, de Kooning lived much longer than his contemporaries, many of whom had untimely deaths. The group of painters that would be identified as the New York School was made up of de Kooning and contemporaries such as Arshile Gorky [15 Apr 1904 21 Jul 1948] and Edgar Denby, and they helped to establish New York City’s reputation as a center for artistic activity.
Although his work appears spontaneous, de Kooning often spent many months on a single piece, repeatedly painting over completed sections and occasionally pressing newspaper onto the drying canvas. Friend and New Yorker critic Harold Rosenberg first used the term “Action painting” to refer to de Kooning’s violent slashes of color and the shifting foreground and background typical of his abstract work. “Painting isn’t just the visual thing that reaches your retina,” the artist once said, “it’s what’s behind it. I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or an idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s different from mine as long as it comes from the painting which has its own integrity and intensity.”
Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, Holland. Both of his parents were involved in the sale of alcohol, his father as a distributor, and his mother as the proprietor of a bar. De Kooning’s parents separated when he was five, and after a brief period in which he lived with his father (with whom he was very close), his mother demanded that he live with her. The future painter’s artistic talents were evident even in childhood, and at the age of 12 he left school to apprentice with Jan and Jaap Giding, the proprietors of a large commercial art firm. When de Kooning had completed his training in traditional arts and crafts, the Gidings assisted him in enrolling in the Academie Voor Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschapen, where he attended evening classes for the next eight years (1916-1924). De Kooning graduated from the Academy in 1924, having received certification as both an artist and craftsperson. As a young man, de Kooning became familiar with the work of Walt Whitman, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Piet Mondrian. He also admired a group of Dutch abstract artists known as DeStijl, who counted Theo Van Doesburg and Mondrian among their ranks, and whose work he had first encountered while working for the art director of a Rotterdam department store from 1920-1923.
De Kooning entered the United States in 1926 as a stowaway (he would not become a citizen of the U.S. until 1961), in the hope of becoming a commercial illustrator. Despite his complete unfamiliarity with the English language, he was able to find work as a freelance commercial artist and housepainter. De Kooning settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, an area with a sizable Dutch population. The following year, he moved to New York City, where he developed friendships with artists including Edward Denby, Stuart Davis, and Arshile Gorky. He shared a studio with Gorky, who, along with Pablo Picasso, came to be a major influence on the painter’s early work. In 1935, de Kooning found full-time employment through the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project, and in 1939 was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair to create a mural for the Hall of Pharmacy that he entitled Medicine. During this period, he also painted a series of portraits of men that included Self-Portrait with Imaginary Brother (1938), Two Men Standing (1938), and Glazier (1940).
In 1942, de Kooning met the painter Jackson Pollock, with whom he formed the Club, an artists’ group that met primarily at 39 East 8th Street. Many of the Abstract Expressionists also gathered at the Cedar Bar, where they socialized with artists and intellectuals such as the poet and art critic Frank O’Hara and painters Joan Mitchell and Hans Hofmann. De Kooning married fellow painter Elaine Marie Fried in December of 1942. Over the years, he and his wife often lived in separate homes for extended periods of time, but as he grew older, Elaine spent more time at his house in East Hampton, Long Island. Elaine de Kooning was a respected Abstract Expressionist artist and critic in her own right, most notable for her portraits. She painted two portraits of US President John F. Kennedy, and taught at universities such as Yale and Carnegie Mellon. Work on abstract black and white oil paintings, considered by some to be Willem de Kooning’s finest work, began in 1946; most of these works employed less expensive commercial paints made from enamel. One of these was Attic (1949). Another, Excavation (1950), was one of the first large-scale paintings of the period, and was credited with cementing Abstract Expressionism’s role as the most important form of its time.
The 1940s were years of great success for de Kooning. His first one-man
show took place in 1948 at New York’s Charles Egan Gallery and was a critical
success. It featured 10 abstract paintings, the majority of which had been
rendered in black and white. Around this time, influential art critic Clement
Greenberg named de Kooning one of the most important painters of the 20th
century. In June 1950, he was among six American artists (and, along with
Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, one of three Abstract Expressionist painters)
chosen by the Museum of Modern Art’s Alfred H. Barr for exhibition in the
25th Venice Biennale in Italy. The following April marked his second one-man
show; that year he also received, for Excavation, the $2000 Logan Medal
and Purchase Prize from The Art Institute of Chicago’s 60th Annual Survey
of American Painting. De Kooning was also among the artists chosen by the
Museum of Modern Art to represent the United States at the 27th Biennale
International in Venice, Italy.
In March 1953, the Sidney Janis Gallery presented an exhibit of de Kooning’s work that featured six large oil paintings and several pastel sketches of a seated woman. The Woman series marked a move toward figurative representation, an approach that had been rejected by most other artists and thinkers associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. The Museum of Modern Art bought the US works from the Venice exhibition for display in the New York museum’s 27th Biennale in 1954. The show focused on the work of Ben Shahn and de Kooning, and 27 of de Kooning’s paintings and drawings were available for view at the exhibit.
In the late 1950s, de Kooning painted a number of large landscapes depicting quick impressions of urban scenes and highways, including Gotham News (1956), Backyard on 10th Street (1956), and Montauk Highway (1958). The painter moved in 1961 to East Hampton, Long Island, which was a favored locale among painters of the period. There, he began work on a glass-walled studio that was not fully completed until 1969. In the mid-1960s, with works such as Clam Diggers (1964) and Singing Woman (1965), he returned to the subject of women, this time placing the female figure in abstract landscapes. De Kooning would revisit this subject matter throughout his career.
De Kooning’s later work focused on an extended examination of color and light, and he produced many untitled works that featured women and marine creatures, often employing unmixed colors. By the 1980s, a decade in which he completed over 300 pieces, his work took on a simpler form, emphasizing abstract orange, blue, and red lines that leapt from a canvas painted white. In this later work, de Kooning turned away from the influence of Picasso and began to look more toward the colorful silhouettes of late Matisse.
Although he had been a hard drinker for much of his life, de Kooning abstained from alcohol in his later years. As he aged, the artist also suffered from the short-term memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease; fortunately, the disease did not affect his technical ability. Of de Kooning’s generation of painters, he was one of the few to survive to old age: Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1948 and 1970, respectively, Jackson Pollock died in a car crash in 1956, and Franz Kline succumbed to a heart attack in 1962. De Kooning would not pass away until 1997, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
Willem de Kooning’s work, vibrant and sometimes aggressive, continues to inspire generations of painters. Through their choice of residence and lifestyle, he and the other members of the New York School of painting helped to establish New York City as a center for artistic activity. DeKooning’s particular use of gestural painting ensured that he will be remembered as one of the most original and startling artists of the 20th century.
In 1963, after more than four decades in New York City, Willem De Kooning moved permanently to Springs, on the far end of Long Island. The expansive landscape — with its North Atlantic light, low-lying dunes, surrounding water, and deep-green foliage and fields — reminded the artist of his native Holland. From the time he settled in Springs at the age of fifty-nine, de Kooning embarked on a body of work often thought to rival that of Monet in its fresh momentum. The reference points of his art — landscape, figure, and gestural abstraction — meld seamlessly together. Working exclusively during daylight hours in a large, open studio with floor-to-ceiling windows, de Kooning immersed himself in the subtleties of the steely gray-green landscape and luxuriated in the quality of the light and colors there. In contrast to his heroic and often turbulent earlier canvases, these late paintings reflect his joyous response to nature. Nature, for him, is at once edenic yet soulful; the transience of the pleasures he celebrates is always keenly present.
(Blood and the Torso) (Wall next to the suicide bombing) Woman 1
Untitled, 1985 (196x223cm) (Two Dancers) _ De Kooning returned again and again to the image of woman. The idyllic bacchanals of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Rubens were inspirations for him. In contrast to the aggressive femme fatales who peer at the viewer in his 1950s canvases, however, his late women are earthy (and at times ironically caricatured) sun-drenched nymphs cavorting amid the seaside landscape. De Kooning’s canvases of the 1980s are concise. The flow of his gesture is closely related to the economic line of his drawings rather than to the material mass of brushstrokes. In Untitled, 1985, the calligraphy simultaneously evokes windswept organic forms and two women (seen from front and back), arms interlocked and legs in dancelike attitude. The swaying movement recalls Matisse’s bucolic masterpiece The Dance, whose unbridled view of female sensuality, observed from a distance as if at a performance, de Kooning shares. With the artist’s advancing age, voluptuousness also takes on a redemptive edge; he said, “I think of woman as being light, soaring upward instead of heavily attached to the ground.”
Born (or baptized? or both??) on 19 March 1593:
Georges de La Tour, French painter who died
on 30 January 1652.
The son of a baker in the independent province of Lorraine, Georges de la Tour is first mentioned in documents in 1616, when he was still living in Vic. By 1620 he had established himself in Lunéville and hired his first apprentice. He made a visit to Paris in 1639, the same year he was named peintre ordinaire du roi to Louis XIII. While little is known about La Tour's life or artistic training, he may have been in Rome from 1610 to 1616 and may also have gone to the Netherlands. Famous in his lifetime, La Tour's reputation fell into oblivion after his death. His work was rediscovered in the twentieth century. Scholarly opinion remains divided over the chronology of his oeuvre, but La Tour's important position as a dramatist of humble reality is universally acknowledged today.
Georges de La Tour was born at Vic-sur-Seuille, Lorraine, the son of a baker. Most probably, the artist's early education took place in Vic and then, certainly, at the duchy's capital, Nancy. There is a good chance that the young painter traveled 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.
De la Tour married Diane Le Nerf on 02 July 1617. Very shortly thereafter they left Vic for his Diane's city of origin, Lunéville. There 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: the couple's house staff complained 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, of a parapleurisy that seems to have felled eight persons merely in his own household, let alone over 8000 in the city of Lunéville as a whole.
De la Tour's contemporaries portray him as a basically unpleasant person haughty, sharp-tongued, self-assured, unbearably self-sufficient, stingy, and violent beyond measure. 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". But historians have found no traces of any interest shown by the old Louis XIII or the young Louis XIV in his work. Was La Tour perhaps inclined to mendacity as well?
Un Vieux (1619, 91x60cm) Une Vieille (1619) Penitent Saint Jerome (1630, 152x109cm)
Saint Jerome Reading (1622, 62 x55cm) _ Charles II seems to have acquired this painting in 1662. At that time it was listed as 'St. Jerome wth [sic] spectacles of the manner of Albrecht Dürer'; it was not until 1939 that it was recognized by Kenneth Clark as 'a very bad de la Tour'. Saint Jerome reading is now regularly discussed in the literature on the artist, whose popularity has risen dramatically in recent years. Having been born in Lorraine where he passed most of his life, de la Tour's style reveals a commingling of Italian and Northern Caravaggesque influences which suggest, but do not necessarily prove, visits to Rome and the Netherlands. However, his style remains determinedly individual and was equally the product of local influences. He was a man of independent means and was appointed Peintre Ordinaire du Roi in Paris in 1639. There is a limited number of signed or dated works in the artist's small oeuvre and only approximate indications (some controversial) for the development of his style.
Saint Jerome Reading may be compared with the series of Apostles, usually regarded as early works although not all autograph. The figures of Saint James the Less, Saint Philip and Saint Paul are particularly relevant. Also significant is a variant Saint Jerome reading, a copy after a lost painting by de la Tour, which is a more sophisticated composition with the figure seen from above and numerous objects comprising a still-life in the foreground. A date of about 1621-23 has been suggested for all of these works, which herald the influence of Caravaggio. Even allowing for the worn surface of the present painting, the chief characteristics of de la Tour's art can be discerned: the naturalistic rendering of hair and skin, the love of genre details such as the spectacles, the splash of saturated color for the cardinal's robe and, above all, the mysterious light that illuminates the figure so powerfully. As a painter Georges de la Tour lifts the art of scientific observation onto a poetic level. It is not quite certain, for instance, to what degree the intense luminosity renders the paper transparent, but it helps to define the distance between the viewer and Saint Jerome in the picture space while providing a bright focal point on a vertical axis. The concentration that characterizes Saint Jerome gradually envelops the viewer to the extent that the internal act of reading becomes synonymous with the external discipline of looking. The painting was cleaned and restored in 1972.
Thomas (1630, 69x61cm) _ This is one of La Tour's 'daylight' masterpieces.
The bold, simplified modeling is combined here with a psychological analysis
of rare subtlety. The refined sable and slate-grey coloring distinguishes
the work from some other La Tours where red predominate.
The Payment of Dues (1634, 99x152cm) _ An important early picture of La Tour is the surviving Payment of Dues, only identified in 1972, even though it has been in the museum at Lvov since at least the early nineteenth century. (Formerly the painting was attributed to Honthorst.) The picture was cleaned soon after its debut in Paris at the time of the La Tour exhibition in 1972, and a date was revealed. This date, thought to be 1634, has caused a great deal of controversy. If 1634 is correct, a drastic reassessment of La Tour's stylistic development must be made. The early pictures of saints remain from the 1620s, and then in the early 1630s La Tour moves towards his second phase, basically a Le Clerc-influenced period. The swaying figures and flickering lighting of the Payment of Dues are especially reminiscent of Le Clerc's Concert at Schleissheim. There is a certain ambiguity often present in La Tour in the subject, which appears to have been little studied. At first sight it is a simple peasant scene of the rich extracting money, ruthlessly, from the poor, but it could be a depiction of the Calling of Matthew (the tax collector). It was recognized as a de La Tour in 1970 when the signature was found.
Cheater with the Ace of Diamond (1640, 106x146cm) _ The scene shows a strong influence of Caravaggio.
Fortune Teller (1635, 102x124cm) _ Georges de La Tour depicted a Caravaggesque genre scene popular in the first half of the 17th century: a young cavalier (the prodigal son) robbed by three women.
Magdalen of Night Light (1635, 128x94cm) _ Magdalen was the object of great devotion in France and La Tour painted several pictures representing her. Georges de La Tour was successful during his lifetime, however he remains somewhat mysterious. A journey to Italy during his youth before he settled at Lunéville, may explain his Caravaggism. Without much imagination, he has very personal color. effects; a fine red often recurs in the nocturnal atmosphere of his pictures, in which the long candle, often seen in transparency, lights up thick, voluntarily geometrical volumes, in the melancholy resigned loneliness of his models.
The Penitent Magdalen (1643, 133x102cm) _ An artist of great brilliance and originality, Georges de La Tour was from the duchy of Lorraine in northeastern France. Early in his career he gained knowledge of contemporary Caravaggesque painting with its emphasis on realism and dramatic effects of light and dark. This picture shows Mary Magdalen in a dark room at the dramatic moment of her conversion, her features lit by a candle flame that imparts a hauntingly spiritual quality to the work. The elaborate silver mirror, the pearls on the table, and the jewels on the floor symbolize luxury, which she has cast aside. In their place she clasps a skull, a common symbol of mortality.
Job Mocked by his Wife (1636, 145x97cm) _ There was a change in La Tour's style from the morbidity and mystery of such pictures as the penitent Magdalen contemplating a skull and a monk watching over his dead or dying companion, to works of a much calmer and more distilled air. The transitional pictures, also datable to the 1630s, are Job Mocked by his Wife and the so-called Woman with the Flea. The composition of the Job is immediately striking. There is the same flickering movement that is found in the Payment of Dues, even though there are only two figures. It is derived from Bellange's etching of The Annunciation, an unexpected source, especially when it is considered that The Annunciation by Caravaggio was already in the ducal collection at Nancy by 1616 (this much-damaged picture is now accepted by most authorities as authentic). No influence on La Tour is discernible in the Caravaggio, although it is virtually certain that he knew it. The subject is a rare one, and La Tour has introduced a special pathos into Job's sufferings. Although its composition is a complex amalgam of the Bellange Annunciation, the mood of the Job is entirely original. La Tour has concentrated on a dialogue between the unfortunate Job and his ill-tempered wife, and has allowed us a glimpse of a rarely painted subject, a husband tormented by his wife. Her cruel mockery of him comes over with great force as Job sits helplessly contemplating his sores (the potsherd he uses to scrape them is on the ground). The spectator is forced to realize that this painter's genius lies chiefly in his ability to observe the human condition; his skill in painting candlelight is only part of the brilliance. Such a depiction of the complex relationship between two people is rare indeed in French art of the period, and in his maturity La Tour was to develop the concept of dialogue between people to ever-increasing heights of subtlety.
Woman Catching Fleas (1635) _ La Tour, as with Rembrandt and Velázquez, made the most creative use of the lessons of Caravaggism. This painting combines chiaroscuro and candlelight with an uncompromising realism, and achieves a surprising intimacy of feeling. This painting is enigmatic in both composition and subject-matter. It strikes an uneasy note because of its stark simplicity, which has usually been interpreted as a genre scene of low life a woman crushing a flea between her fingernails but no authentic La Tour depicts such an obviously banal theme without a deeper meaning. The only symbol in the picture is the solitary candle burning on the chair, and it is surely not too speculative to suggest that the picture might represent the pregnant Virgin, isolated by Joseph when he discovers that she is with child, the candle thus symbolizing the forthcoming Christ as the Light of the World.
Sebastian Attended by Saint Irene (1649, 167x130cm) _ There is a group
of painting attributed to Georges de La Tour depicting Saint Sebastian and
Saint Irene. Part of them is a horizontal composition where the model of
one of the figures is a familiar La Tour type. Most of the versions are
curiously incompetent, only three of them having pretensions to quality.
The upright versions of the same subject are more celebrated. The composition
is monumental, as if the painting were depicting a sculptured tableau. One
composition is especially moving, with the mourning figure in a blue cowl
(in another version the cowl is black) looking as if she were taken from
a piece of Burgundian tomb sculpture. Recent observations on the possible
dating of the costumes have left little doubt that the picture is rather
later than the artist's lifetime. Étienne de La Tour, the son of the artist
was suggested (but not accepted) as the possible author. Étienne de La Tour
is actually documented as being required to continue his father's style,
should the latter die inopportunely, and it is likely that he continued
long into the 1660s and even the 1670s, painting ever-weaker versions of
his father's work which eventually became mockeries of his father's genius.
Saint Sebastian Attended by Saint Irene (another one, 1641, 160x129cm) _ It is one of the typical paintings of the artist showing strong contrasts of light and shadow.
The Dream of Saint Joseph (1640, 93x81cm) _ detail _ De la Tour's mature pictures form a close-knit group which must date from the years immediately before and after 1640. None of them is documented, although some of them are signed. The most typical and one of the best preserved of them is the so-called Dream of Joseph, which in many respects forms a microcosm of La Tour's art and the problems which surround it, in terms of both history and the interpretation of the subject. As recently as 1913 it was attributed to Rembrandt, although the picture was clearly signed La Tour in the top right-hand corner. It is interesting that an illustrious name should have been sought for so magical a picture, and the subject, even now, is as elusive as was the former difficulty of attribution. A youth in biblical costume is making a beckoning or announcing gesture before an old man who has fallen asleep reading a book. The traditional interpretation is that it is a Dream of Joseph, even though Joseph is normally shown as a carpenter (as he is in another La Tour picture). The youth is hardly the angel Gabriel either, coming to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt in order to escape the impending massacre of all children in Bethlehem by Herod's soldiers. A possible explanation for this enigmatic picture is that it depicts the moment when the young Samuel, having been, he thinks, summoned by the elderly priest Eli, finds him asleep. This surprises Samuel, who at that instant realizes that it is God's voice calling him. If this interpretation of the subject is correct, La Tour has with characteristic subtlety and understatement shown the exact moment when the youth Samuel arrives before the sleeping old man, with a 'here I am' gesture. Samuel's pose is unforgettable. All attempts at the naturalism with which La Tour is so wrongly credited have been abandoned, leaving a Mannerist twisting of the fingers and the caprice of shielding most of the candle flame. Above all, there is an exquisite stillness, which pervades not only this picture but also the other all-too-few masterpieces from this period.
Christ in the Carpenter's Shop (1645, 137x101cm) _ On the same deep level as in the Job, in a similar vein but more complex in composition, is the Christ in the Carpenter's Shop. As in the Job, one of the figures is arched over the top of the canvas, and again the attention to mood is shown in the minute observation of the effects of light in certain areas, especially that of the translucency of the child's hand silhouetted against the candle, revealing even the dirt in the fingernails. As usual, La Tour tells the Bible story in the simplest of terms. Only items essential for identifying the subject, in this case the paraphernalia of the carpenter's shop, are included. The picture can exist on the level of a genre scene without religious overtones, and its realism makes it one of the greatest genre paintings of the seventeenth century, rivaling Velázquez's Water Seller of Seville and Rembrandt's Jewish Bride (the latter has also been interpreted as a religious or mythological subject). _ detail _ The attention to mood is shown in the minute observation of the effects of light in certain areas, especially that of the translucency of the child's hand silhouetted against the candle, revealing even the dirt in the fingernails.
Adoration by the Shepherds (1644, 107x131cm) _ This picture marks the beginning of La Tour's last phase. The change in La Tour's art in these last years is so great that it has to be seen in terms of a decline and a rapid increase in studio participation. The Adoration by the Shepherds is one of the most frequently painted subjects in western art, but La Tour is unique in the realism of his treatment: the shepherds are entirely convincing.
The Newborn (1645, 76x91cm) _ The subject is ambiguous because the spectator is uncertain whether it is a simple genre scene or whether it represents the Virgin, Saint Anne and the Christ Child. By common consent La Tour's best picture is The Newborn At first sight this now-famous work seems starkly simple, a refinement of the already-familiar mannerisms and abbreviations, and only close inspection of the relatively small-scale picture reveals its complexity. The technique is almost pointillist: the intense red of the mother's dress is achieved by minute dots of color of varying hue, and the same is true of the lilac garment of the servant (or Saint Anne, if the subject is the Christ Child). The whole surface is thus the product of an intensely concentrated effort, and a large amount of detail is concealed in the stark simplicity of the forms. The collar of the mother's dress is elaborately decorated, and the profiles are painted with an exceptional delicacy of line. A total calm pervades the picture, in which the faces have been described as almost Buddha-like in their serenity. The sentiments which characterize almost all the rest of seventeenth-century painting are avoided, and this picture alone justifies La Tour's reputation. Just as Vermeeer's View of Delft is exceptional, even for Vermeer, so the Newborn rises above all the conventions of its time. _ detail _ The profiles are painted with an exceptional delicacy of line.
The Hurdy-gurdy Player (1636, 162x105m) _ The attribution to Georges de La Tour is dubious.
naissance de Georges de La Tour, peintre,
à Vic-sur-Seille. ^top^
He would grow up to be a painter of religious and genre subjects, best known for his night scenes of dark interiors illuminated by candlelight. La Tour was born in Vic, a small town in the duchy of Lorraine. The evidence of his work suggests that he was influenced by the Italian master Caravaggio, known for his dramatic lighting effects, and by the Dutch masters Hendrick Terbrugghen and Gerrit van Honthorst, leaders of the tenebroso (shadowy) style. La Tour's night scenes are often lit by a single emphatic light source, such as a torch or candle. He was particularly effective in exploiting the resulting strong contrasts of light and shadow for expressive effect, as in St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene (1649), where the striking colors of the picture are vividly dramatized by the strong light of a large candle. La Tour's daylight scenes most often depict religious subjects and exhibit exquisite attention to detail. His paintings throughout his career are characterized by balanced composition, simplified volumetric shapes, and a precise, uncluttered realism. His solemn simplicity reflected the classicism of 17th century art but had little in common with the emerging baroque style, and his work was forgotten after his death in 1652; his reputation was not revived until the 20th century.
[(click on image to enlarge Le songe de Saint Joseph >]
Georges de La Tour est le héros du plus mystérieux roman de l'histoire de l'art. Peintre à succès sous Louis XIII, tombé dans l'oubli dès sa mort, en 1652, Georges de La Tour n'a longtemps existé que dans quelques actes d'état civil, papiers notariés et autres inventaires après décès. Peintre sans tableaux, on a souvent attribué ses oeuvres à Vélasquez, Zurbaran, aux frères Le Nain, jusqu'à ce qu'un érudit allemand, Hermann Voss, le ressuscite en 1915 en rapprochant trois toiles mystérieuses, conservées dans des musées français et «donnant à voir, cadrés à mi-corps, des figures subtilement éclairées par la lumière d'une chandelle...» Il s'agissait du Nouveau-né, anonyme étiqueté Le Nain, qui avait déjà enthousiasmé Taine et même Maurice Denis. D'un Reniement de saint Pierre et d'un Vieillard endormi, aujourd'hui baptisé L'ange apparaissant à Saint Joseph, accrochés à Nantes et dans lequel Mérimée et Stendhal, un siècle plus tôt, avaient vu la patte de Vélasquez. Les deux tableaux nantais étaient signés G. de La Tour, mais personne n'était capable d'identifier l'auteur.
Peu à peu, on trouve des La Tour dans les lieux les plus fous. Dans les réserves poussiéreuses des musées, les greniers de châteaux, les églises de campagne, les chapelles désaffectées... Anonymes, dans les salles à manger familiales, les arrière-boutiques d'antiquaires, les successions modestes... Dans la Sarthe, en Bretagne, à Limoges, en Suisse. Les oeuvres sont fascinantes - ce mélange étrange du primitif et du sophistiqué.
Georges de La Tour est aujourd'hui définitivement immortel, considéré comme l'un des plus grands artistes de tous les temps, maître du clair-obscur et roi de la nuit. Nous ne connaissions qu'une quarantaine de tableaux sur les cinq cents probables.
Il naît dans l'évêché de Metz en 1593, à Vic-sur-Seille, grosse bourgade agricole où l'on parle français. Sa mère, déjà veuve avec deux enfants, a du bien. Son père est un boulanger prospère qui possède des terres, des vignes, des rentes, «des bagues et des habillements». A Vic, ville relais entre l'Empire et la Lorraine - à l'époque, heureux duché indépendant -, l'existence est animée. Capitale des évêques de Metz, c'est une place forte catholique. L'évêque, fils préféré du duc Charles III, entretient au château une maison princière, fréquentée par les intellectuels, les artistes qui travaillent pour lui. Nancy est plus brillante, mais Vic tient son rang. A la fin du XVIe siècle, l'Eglise, celle de la Contre-Réforme, est en pleine reconquête des âmes égarées dans le protestantisme ou la superstition. La jeunesse de La Tour voit s'affirmer le réveil religieux qui soulève la Lorraine.
Le 20 octobre 1616, on le retrouve parrain dans l'acte de baptême d'une petite Marguerite Fontaine. Il a 23 ans. En 1617, le jeune La Tour est assez introduit pour pouvoir épouser Diane Le Nerf, qui a déjà coiffé sainte Catherine, mais dont le père, noble argentier du duc de Lorraine, est l'un des hommes les plus riches de Lunéville, allié à toute l'aristocratie du pays. En même temps qu'une carrière de peintre il voit s'ouvrir à lui une carrière sociale. La Tour est ambitieux. Il quitte Vic pour Lunéville plutôt que pour Nancy, où trop d'artistes lui font concurrence. Et obtient du duc de Lorraine des lettres d'exemption qui lui accordent des privilèges voisins de ceux de la noblesse. Lunéville va permettre au fils du boulanger de mener la vie d'un seigneur. Il va développer peu à peu cette oeuvre étrange, profondément imprégnée de préceptes pieux, mystique et sensuelle, un univers de tension contenue dans lequel les cris, les passions, les douleurs, l'amour sont intérieurs, et l'anecdote, fixée dans l'éternité: une peinture du silence, de l'immobilité, brossée sans dessin préalable, d'un pinceau précis et rapide.
Une oeuvre à la chronologie impossible: seuls deux tableaux sont datés. 1645 pour Les larmes de saint Pierre et 1650 (le dernier?) pour Le Reniement. Une vingtaine d'autres sont à peu près signés. Tout le reste n'est que suppositions. Même les titres sont pures déductions. On a longtemps cru que les tableaux «diurnes», clairs, stylisés, réalistes, aux alliances subtiles de couleur (Rixe, La diseuse de bonne aventure, Le Tricheur), appartenaient à la première période, tandis que les «nocturnes» à la manière brune dataient de la fin. Mais la découverte, en 1970 à Lvov (URSS), de L'argent versé, un nocturne éclairé à la chandelle dont les personnages ont la violence des oeuvres du début, est venu bouleverser les connaissances. On pense aujourd'hui que La Tour a systématiquement et habilement alterné les deux manières.
Innovant non dans le choix des sujets mais dans leur traitement, l'Evangile selon La Tour, c'est l'histoire de l'Homme, de la naissance à la mort, mais racontée de deux façons: soit avec des personnages saisis à mi-corps dans un cadrage serré, plans très cinématographiques éclairés par une lumière latérale qui en découpe les contours. Soit, au contraire, en pied, isolés sur fond neutre, sans profondeur, tableaux intemporels dont on ne situe ni le lieu, ni l'heure, ni le temps. la Tour a bien compris la leçon du Caravage. Ses «Apôtres», sans auréole, sont des paysans aux traits rudes, aux grossiers vêtements d'étoffe usée ou de vieux cuir. Corps fatigués, veines saillantes, chairs ramollies, mains calleuses aux doigts épais - le regard du peintre est impitoyable. Les vielleurs sont très âgés, aveugles, avec la bouche ouverte des morts. Mais le ruban du tableau de Nantes est «une coulée de miel et de vieux rose». Les mangeurs de pois sont présentés dans une lumière glaciale qui accentue les rides et la détresse, compensée pourtant par la superbe tache rouge d'un vêtement. De même, dans Rixe de musiciens, longtemps attribuée au Caravage, les cinq têtes placées au même niveau, présentées en frise, sont peintes avec une froide brutalité. Visages avinés, longs doigts tordus, ils sont laids et ridicules.
Décorateur virtuose, La Tour se fait aussi styliste: raffinement des vêtements, ramage des broderies, moelleux des tissus dans La diseuse de bonne aventure. Variété des bijoux, des coiffures et des turbans, découpes «haute couture» pour les rubans du pourpoint dans les deux exemplaires du Tricheur, dont l'élégance perverse a les attraits du diable.
On croirait qu'il dispose d'abord des figures géométriques qu'il habille ensuite au gré de ses sujets, dans un «éclairage de cave». Voir Job dont la femme courbe la tête et le dos pour entrer dans le tableau. La Tour lui raccourcit le buste, accentuant ainsi la stature monumentale du personnage, qui n'est plus qu'une immense tache rouge, comme s'il avait horreur du vide.
Entre-temps, il s'est spécialisé dans les «nuits». Louis XIII, en visite à Nancy, reçoit en cadeau un Saint Sébastien, patron des archers, «d'un goût si parfait qu'il fit ôter de sa chambre tous les autres tableaux pour n'y laisser que celui-là... La toile a disparu, mais on lui connaît une dizaine de copies. En 1639, La Tour est repéré à Paris, où un paiement de 1000 livres lui est fait pour «affaires concernant le service de Sa Majesté». Nommé «peintre ordinaire du roy», il loge au Louvre. Ses clients: Richelieu, le surintendant des Finances Bullion, l'ami Le Nôtre, le collectionneur Jean-Baptiste de Bretagne... C'est la gloire. Il est riche. Et odieux. Affairiste. Rapace. Opportuniste (il a, dès 1636, fait allégeance au roi de France). Il a le sang chaud, la bastonnade facile. Dur aux humbles (il roue de coups un laboureur surpris dans ses champs). Arrogant (il reçoit à coups de pied un sergent venu réclamer un impôt qu'il refuse de payer). Bref, il accumule les litiges et doit dédommager ses victimes. Il est même dénoncé au duc de Lorraine dans une supplique comme «quelqu'un qui se rend odieux au peuple par la quantité de chiens qu'il nourrit, tant lévriers qu'épagneuls, comme s'il était seigneur du lieu, pousse les lévriers dans les grains, les gâte et les foule».
Peut-on être à la fois grand peintre et méchant homme? Il semble que oui. Car il continue son oeuvre. Des cadeaux commandés par Lunéville pour le gouverneur La Ferté, qui représente le roi de France. Surtout des tableaux de chevalet pour clients fortunés. D'où, peut-être, son goût des séries. Comme plus tard Cézanne ou Mondrian, il revient sans cesse sur le motif, se borne à quelques thèmes qu'il reprend, répète, modifie à peine, les conduisant toile après toile vers la perfection. On ne connaît que cinq «Madeleine», mais peut-être en a-t-il peint une vingtaine. Il progresse, le pinceau à la main, avec chaque fois des trouvailles de mise en scène: une nature morte pour la Madeleine à la veilleuse, le reflet du crâne dans la Madeleine au miroir, celui de la bougie dans la Madeleine aux deux flammes, la plus proche du Caravage: vêtements encore élégants, bijoux à terre, mélancolique, elle a compris que le luxe, le plaisir sont vanités. Et que seul le sacrifice la conduira à la paix. Dans toutes ces nuits, la flamme troue l'obscurité brune. «Je suis la lumière et la vie», disait le Christ. Eclairage inventé. Quand donc une torche a-t-elle dispensé, s'interrogeait Malraux, une lumière aussi sereine et fondue? Peu importe. Le rayonnement des chandelles caresse les visages, fige les corps dans une immobilité intemporelle.
La Tour fuit le geste, ignore l'anecdote et fixe dans la contemplation un monde à l'arrêt. Ce faisant, il peint le silence. Et la nuit. Fragilité de l'homme, incertitude du destin, méditation sur la souffrance, sont les thèmes qui soutiennent les deux Saint Sébastien soigné par Irène (à la torche)... Eclairage frisant, cadrage serré, composition verticale, vêtements architecturés. Mais on ne voit que les mains. Main tendre d'Irène qui tâte le pouls du blessé, mains ouvertes de la servante, jointes en prière pour la sublime dame en bleu, protectrices pour la femme en larmes. «C'est pour moi l'un de ses plus beaux tableaux, avoue Thuillier, une oeuvre impossible à imaginer. Il nous montre le destin qui s'accomplit. Sébastien n'est pas mort. C'est un héros blessé. Les femmes sont là pour le soigner. Cherchez dans Rembrandt, il n'y a pas cela...»
Modernité des cadrages, archaïsme bidimensionnel des figures, géométrie des rythmes, cette peinture austère correspond aux perplexités de l'art du XXe siècle. Chardin, Cézanne, Mondrian, ont tenu à leur façon le discours mystique de La Tour, s'efforçant de marquer la préséance de l'immuable, de l'éternel, sur l'éphémère activité humaine. «La Tour ne gesticule jamais, écrit Malraux. En un temps de frénésie, il ignore le mouvement, créant en quelque sorte des statues nocturnes, surgies de la terre endormie. Aucun peintre ne suggère ce vaste et mystérieux silence. La Tour est le seul interprète de la part sereine des ténèbres.» Plus stoïcien que religieux, ni athée ni croyant, l'esprit le plus «déniaisé» de son temps n'a pas encore livré la moitié de ses secrets. On ne lui connaît aucun portrait, ni paysage, pas d'univers, ni ciel, ni mer, ni horizon, même pas de chevaux, rien qui rappelle la nature, le décor de la vie. A part quelques rares animaux, dont une mouche en trompe-l'oeil, le coq de saint Pierre, le chien du vielleur, la tête d'agneau dans L'adoration des bergers.