Georges de La Tour (Vic-sur-Seille, March 13, 1593 – Lunéville, January 30, 1652) was a painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which became part of France the year before his death. He painted mostly religious scenes lit by candlelight, and after centuries of posthumous obscurity became one of the most highly regarded of French 17th century artists in the 20th century.
La Tour's educational background remains somewhat unclear, but it is assumed that he travelled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. His paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, but this probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries. In particular, La Tour is often compared to the Dutch painter Hendrick Terbrugghen.
In 1617 he married Diane Le Nerf, of a minor noble family, and in 1620 he established his studio in her quiet provincial home-town of Lunéville, part of the independent Duchy of Lorraine which was absorbed into France in 1641, during his lifetime. He painted mainly religious and some genre scenes. He was given the title "Painter to the King" (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the Dukes of Lorraine in 1623–4, but the local bourgeoisie provided his main market, and he achieved a certain affluence. He is not recorded in Lunéville in 1639–42, and may have travelled again; Blunt detected the influence of Gerrit van Honthorst in his paintings after this point. He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects, but in treatments with influence from genre painting.
Georges de la Tour and his family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville. His son Étienne (b. 1621) was his pupil.
His early work shows influences from Caravaggio, probably via his Dutch followers, and the genre scenes of cheats—as in The Fortune Teller —and fighting beggars clearly derive from the Dutch Caravaggisti, and probably also his fellow-Lorrainer, Jacques Bellange. These are believed to date from relatively early in his career.
La Tour is best known for the nocturnal light effects which he developed much further than his artistic predecessors had done, and transferred their use in the genre subjects in the paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti to religious painting in his. Unlike Caravaggio his religious paintings lack dramatic effects. He painted these in a second phase of his style, perhaps beginning in the 1640s, using chiaroscuro, careful geometrical compositions, and very simplified painting of forms. His work moves during his career towards greater simplicity and stillness — taking from Caravaggio very different qualities than Jusepe de Ribera and his Tenebrist followers did.
He often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work in versions of La Tour's compositions is difficult. The version of the Education of the Virgin, in the Frick Collection in New York is an example, as the Museum itself admits. Another group of paintings (example left), of great skill but claimed to be different in style to those of de La Tour, have been attributed to an unknown "Hurdy-gurdy Master". All show older male figures (one group in Malibu includes a female), mostly solitary, either beggars or saints.
After his death in 1652, La Tour's work was largely forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915. In 1935 an exhibition in Paris began the revival in interest among a wider public. In the twentieth century a number of his works were identified once more, and forgers tried to help meet the new demand; many aspects of his œuvre remain controversial among art historians.
Penitent Magdalene is the painting Ariel references when she yearns to know about fire while singing "Part of Your World" in Disney's The Little Mermaid.