Peasant Couple Eating by Georges de la Tour

Peasant Couple Eating by Georges de la Tour (c.1623)

Georges de la Tour was born in 1593 in Vic-sur-Seille a small town in the department of Lorraine in north-eastern France which, at the time, was part of the Holy Roman Empire  He was one of seven children born to father Jean, a baker and mother Sybille.  Little is known of his early upbringing but we know he married Diane le Nerf at the age of twenty four and they went on to have ten children.  Three years after marrying, the couple moved to Lunéville, his wife’s home town, a short distance from Georges’ birthplace, where he spent the rest of his life.    He had quite a successful career and his paintings were bought by the likes of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Lorraine whom he worked for between 1639 and 1642. He died in 1652 just short of his fifty-ninth birthday.

    The style of Georges de la Tour is incredibly unique in its depiction of common subject matter as well as in the design and composition of the works themselves.  De la Tour devoted himself mainly to the representation of genre and religious subjects, both in day scenes as well as nocturnal ones.  On the whole, the paintings are generally small, and thus it can be assumed that he was patronised by mostly private clients from the bourgeoisie or for small religious houses.

My Daily Art Display today is the Peasant Couple Eating painted by Georges de la Tour around 1623 at the early part of his artistic career.   The two half length figures which are almost life-size are tightly framed in the pictorial space.  They face us as if we have interrupted them during their meagre meal of dried peas.  The man exhibits a sour and resentful look as he looks down.  The woman stares fixedly at us with her deep-set almost dead eyes as she raises a spoon to her mouth.  As the background is a simple grey we have no idea where the event is taking place.  However, this background enhances the old couple.  The painting of half-length figures like this one was a characteristic of Caravaggio’s style, an artist who influenced de la Tour in his early works.  This painting proved very popular and there are records of three 17th century copies.

In the book, Georges de la Tour of Lorraine, 1593-1652, by Furness, the author wrote of the artist:

“……Georges de la Tour is classed as a realist.  Realist he is in that his subjects, predominantly if not exclusively religious, are represented in terms of “real” life, often the life of his own country-town and surroundings in Lorraine.  But he avoided naturalism; rather, he chose to simplify, modelling his forms by marked contrasts of light and shade, and using large volumes and severe lines, with great selective economy of detail…”

Georges de la Tour’s use of light in his paintings of people, including this one, bestows them with a sharp eye to detail and clearness within the scene depicted.  He wants us to react to the figures and in some way believes an elaborate background would detract from that scenario.  Grove Art OnLine comments about his lack of backgrounds in his paintings and states:

“…..La Tour’s sparsely populated pictures almost always represent scenes that take place nowhere, if they are judged by the almost complete absence of scenery. The boundaries of the settings are, nevertheless, delineated. There appear to be walls, but they have no texture and the colour is not descriptive….”