“The Tower”: Jean-Pierre Cuzin revisits the works of the Lorraine painter


by Jean-Pierre Cuzin

Citadelles & Mazenod, 384 p., 189 €

For a long time Georges de La Tour was only a submerged continent. Famous during his lifetime, this painter who, according to a contemporary, “Presented to Louis XIII a Saint Sebastian in a night of such perfect taste that the King had all the other paintings removed from his room to leave only this one », Had fallen into oblivion. The year of his death, in 1652, his Saint Jerome reading enters the collections of the King of England, as an anonymous work, “in the manner of Dürer”.

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The art of La Tour goes out of fashion, its name fades. During revolutionary seizures, his works were donated to Caravaggio, Ribera, or Honthorst. It was not until 1915 that Hermann Voss, a German art historian, published in the midst of the war an article triggering the renaissance of Lorrain, first by bringing together several of his nocturnal paintings, later his daytime compositions. Exhibited at the Orangerie in Paris in 1934 among “The Painters of Reality in France in the 17th centurye century “, the works of La Tour will then arouse a real enthusiasm.

a Diogenes newly assigned

Since then, specialists have endeavored to reconstruct his work which was “Apparently considerable”, underlines Jean-Pierre Cuzin, former director of the painting department of the Louvre, in this stimulating monograph. To the forty or so works by La Tour found to date (and as many others that have disappeared but are known through copies), the author adds a new one, a Diogenes held in private hands, which he published in 2018.

Supported since by the former president of the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg, Jean-Pierre Cuzin notes, in his lively and tasty language, many clues in favor of a youthful painting of Lorrain, “And more than anything, that unappealing, walled-up, almost nasty expression of the character. This rigidity of a straight face, La Tour will keep the taste throughout his career “. Comparing the work to the philosophers painted by Jusepe Ribera in Rome, he concludes: “It is in contact with him, we believe, that the Diogenes was painted (…) around 1613-1615”. This would then confirm the hypothesis of a trip by La Tour to the peninsula …

A brutal and angry character

By bringing together the scattered puzzle of archival documents, Jean-Pierre Cuzin does not conceal anything, neither of the ambition of the master of Lunéville, nor of his character. “Angry and brutal”. Table after picture, he especially endeavors to specify the chronology of the work. Over the course of the magnificent reproductions, this hypersensitive eye underlines through many details the subtlety of the colors, a certain distant impassibility too, fleeing sentimentalism.

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At the center of the La Tour quarry, here is “The splendid and unique flowering”, of Ace of diamonds cheater, of Ace of clubs cheater and of The Fortune Teller, “Loud and mysterious, happy and poisonous”. Then, underlines the author, “Around 1640, La Tour seems to simplify the scenes, reduce them to a minimum of elements, as if a deep night had gradually won”. What will give other masterpieces, like the haunting series of Penitent Magdalene, or beaming it New born. Without forgetting the compositions of the son, Étienne de La Tour, surfing on this “brand” prized by a wealthy clientele.


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