Georges de la Tour

Somewhere between the emotional drama of Caravaggio and the crystalline stillness of Vermeer lie the intimate, candlelit paintings of Georges de la Tour, a French master whose work was all but forgotten between his death in 1652 and its rediscovery in the early 20th Century.

I doubt that la Tour was directly influenced by Vermeer (or vice versa), but there is an assumption that Caravaggio’s revelation of form through the use of intense chiaroscuro was a distinct influence on the French painter, particularly in the sharply defined forms in the candlelight scenes of his later career. la Tour painted religious and genre subjects, scenes of everyday life, in his case largely images of the poor arranged as morality tales for amusement of his well-to-do patrons. He refused to indulge in the condescending caricature of his subjects, as was common at the time, and represents them as directly as a portrait.

The striking characteristic of his later work is the light source, often a single candle or lamp, sometimes with the flame in view but more often with the light source itself hidden by a hand or object in the painting, and the subjects and foreground objects revealed in sharp relief by the simple direct focus of the light.

Focus seems to be the intent of la Tour’s compositions, most of them have nothing of a background other than the suggestion of shadowed walls and areas of darkness. Just as Vermeer revealed his subjects by capturing a golden moment in the sunlight from a single window, so la Tour grasps a moment of time between the flickers of a candle’s flame, producing a similar feeling of contemplative stillness and of something waiting to be revealed by quiet inspection of the scene.


3 Replies to “Georges de la Tour”

  1. There is an exhibition in Paris with some de la Tour paintings (the exposition is nearly the same than the 1934’s one what reveals de la Tour to the french audience). I will try to see it 🙂 De la Tour is very impressive, I like very much the atmosphere and the darkness behind the figures (reminds me the movies of David Lynch).

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