|Maurice-Quentin de la Tour (1704-1788), Self-portrait pointing|
Who was Maurice-Quentin de la Tour? Louis Fourcaud, in 1908, described him as a "reprimander" (morigéneur); Diderot in his Salons of 1763 and 1767, as "an odd man, but a good man", "an honest and true man." He is said to have dabbled in poetry, politics, metaphysics and theology, and even in astronomy. In a letter of 1753, Miss Prevost called him an ardent champion of Italian music (like Rousseau). He is said to have have learned Latin at age fifty-five (Diderot, Salon of 1769). He described himself, in a letter of 1770, as "always busy with all kinds of achievements, and consequently with the happiness of mankind," ready to "forget himself like an atom in the space of the universe" but convinced that the desire for immortality is "inside ourselves, united with the love of truth, justice and charity", and a believer in divine providence.
The Antoine-Lecuyer Museum in St Quentin:
La Tour by the Goncourt brothers:
"... La Tour painted his portraits in pastel. The irritability of his nerves, the delicacy of his health forced him to abandon the practice of oil painting. By focusing on this kind of painting with coloured pencils, where he found his genius, he followed his times. He conformed to this fashion that seemed to revive and renew in France during the eighteenth century the French taste for pencil drawing in the sixteenth. And who knows whether he was influenced in his vocation by the sojourn in Paris of la Rosalba in 1720 and in 1721? La Tour was able to witness this triumph of pastel, this fortune in pencil by the Venetian, who was visited by the Regent, sought out by the great and the good, snowed under with commissions and money, sollicited, begged for a portrait by Parabère and the de Pries, the greatest ladies of the court, taken with the charm of her art, which gave women an indescribably light vapourous life, a breath of likeness in floral colours. However it was, La Tour soon benefited from the craze for pastels created by la Rosalba. "He took little time with his portraits," said Mariette, "not tiring out his models at all; he made good likenesses, he was cheap. His press was good. He became the commonplace painter."
|Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), Portrait of Antoine Watteau|
Museo Civico Luigi Bailo, Treviso
- Jules and Edmond Goncourt, La Tour
|La Tour, Study for Portrait of Voltaire|
Musée Antoine-Lecuyer, St Quentin
Now lost, the final work was a half-length portrait to the waist, the torso facing right, holding a book in his left hand, his face challenging his admirer. Even before receiving this portrait, in April 1736 Voltaire asked his friend the Abbé Moussinot to make two fair copies. The first was to be executed with great care in order to serve as a prototype for all those that would be painted subsequently. To this end, Voltaire had hoped it would be retouched by La Tour himself and that it would serve primarily as a model for a miniature to be mounted in a ring. These are now various copies, such as the one painted in pastel kept at the Château de Ferney and the one painted in oil belonging to the Antoine Lecuyer Museum, which, according to tradition, was given by Voltaire to Madame de Champbonin in 1737, or the engravings that were made at the end of 1735, which enable us to know the original composition. When the autograph pastel by La Tour reached Cirey in November 1736, it did not have the desired effect on its commissioner. Indeed, on 17th November Voltaire wrote to the Abbé Moussinot that he would have preferred it "a little denser and with more vivid colours." Covered in white and lightly embellished with pink, the study in the museum in St Quentin had certainly been scrupulously reproduced in the final work, to the point of rather disappointing the artist's first famous patron."
- Xavier Salmon, Le voleur d'âmes, Maurice Quentin La Tour, Artlys, Versailles, 2004.
Portraits by La Tour - Slideshow:
Antoine Lecuyer Museum website
Works by La Tour at the Louvre Museum