Sunday, January 6, 2019

Gaston la Touche

Gaston la Touche (1854 - 1913) was a French painter whose creative approach to light, color, and composition was a big inspiration to his contemporaries.

Gaston la Touche
He was not a product of the Academy, but instead learned to paint independently. He made friends with Degas and Manet at the cafés in Paris. 

La Touche wanted Manet to teach him, but Manet declined, saying "he had nothing to teach him other than to paint what he saw and to use a variety of colors."

Gaston la Touche, The First Born, 1883. 
His early paintings represent a low-key realism in a traditional mode. This painting, "The First Born" is a rare survival, because he burned most of his early paintings in 1891.

Gaston la Touche, Pardon in Brittany, 1896
But before long he started to explore unusual compositions and brilliant ideas of light. A "Pardon" is a Breton form of penitential pilgrimage conducted at twilight with candles.

Gaston la Touche, The Joyous Festival, 1906
According to Wikipedia: "Félix Bracquemond, a friend and associate, suggested that he might be more successful if he brightened his color palette and chose different subjects, recommending Antoine Watteau and François Boucher as models."

Gaston la Touche, Nocturnal Spirits

The following quotes are from a 1921 museum publication: "Gaston La Touche was above all, the artist of imagination. Starting as a realist in his early days, he gradually worked towards a particular kind of idyllic subject which has become identified with him." 

"He was a modernist, in that he used all the tricks and subtleties of modern technique, but his subjects were generally phrased in the graceful idiom of the eighteenth century. He reconquered the charm of Watteau and Fragonard and reclothed the classic myths of Boucher in modern guise."

In his beloved Normandy, at Flers de L'Orne, where he spent many a summer, or at his home in St. Cloud, in surroundings where the spirit of the eighteenth century still lingers, he painted untiringly, a true product of his environment."

Henry Field said: “In the years I spent in Paris I never heard the Frenchmen discussing technique. Simon, Menard, Gaston La Touche, Fantin-Latour, indeed, all my French friends were intent on expression and never bothered about brushwork.”

"His subjects are always filled with intense vitality. He painted the world as he saw it and found it a fairyland. He rediscovered the poetry of existence for those who can and will see. In the woods and plains the satyr and nymph form part of a classic fantasy or a "Fête Galante" of modern life."

"Like Debussy in "L'apres-midi d'un faun" he has retold the ancient legend in the colloquial language of today. He was a decorative artist at all times, but he never lost his touch on reality."

"With that as a foundation he chose the same gay setting beloved by the eighteenth century artists and treated his subject with their unfailing grace and sense of decoration."
Quotes are from a bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1921, also available as a PDF
Obituary in American Art News, 1913
Book: Gaston la Touche
Wikipedia on Gaston la Touche
Online biography at


Robert Cosgrove said...

Another painter I never heard of, and I thank you for calling him to my attention. Followed the always-appreciated Amazon link to the book, and find it now selling for $530 a copy. Sigh. Guess I'll wait for a reprint . . .

Karen Eade said...

Wow! Also had never heard of this artist. Thank you! His work is breath-taking. You can really see the influence on Sargent. Or maybe they influenced each other.

Steve said...

Thanks for the introduction, James. Was able to get the book from interlibrary loan! The painting including illuminated paper globes reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting, though apart from the globes they are not that similar.

gronkchicago said...

"Pardon" is in the Art Institute here in Chicago and is one of my favorite paintings there. When you see it in person, it blows you away with the transparency of the whites and the way that the candle flames glow. An amazing painting.

Pyracantha said...

"The First Born" is another example of 19th century storytelling painting. Judging from the expressions and body language of the mother, the grandmother, and the father at the foot of the bed, something heartbreaking might have happened (is the baby dead?) or it could be an example of working-class tenderness. His later paintings are less class-conscious.

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