Georges de La Tour

The Penitent Magdalene

Date
ca. 1630-35 or ca. 1645-50

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
78 x 101 cm

Date
ca. 1630-35 or ca. 1645-50

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
78 x 101 cm

The Penitent Magdalene is a painting by Georges de La Tour, a 17th century painter from Lorraine best known for his introspective candlelight scenes. It was acquired through Nicholas Hall by a private collection.
Provenance

Private Collection, France

Private Collection, Detroit

Exhibited

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Georges de La Tour and his World, 6 October 1996 – 5 January 1997

Literature

Pierre Rosenberg and François Macé de l’Epinay, Georges de La Tour, Fribourg 1973, p. 132 (lost: copy reproduced fig 36a).

Jacques Thuillier, Tout l’oeuvre de Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1973a, p. 92, no. 32 (lost).

Benedict Nicolson and Christopher Wright, Georges de La Tour, London, 1974, p. 177, no. 31 (lost).

Pierre Rosenberg and Marina Mojana, Georges de La Tour. Catalogo completo dei dipiniti, Florence, 1992, p. 142, no. 13A.

Jacques Thuillier, Georges de La Tour, French ed. Paris 1992, p. 287, no. 34.

George de la Tour’s ‘Repentant Magdalene.’, National gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1993, fig. 8.

Philip Conisbee, Georges de la Tour and his World, exh. cat., Washington DC 1996, no. 21, pp. 270, 102-112, reproduced in color.

Pierre Rosenberg, ‘George de la Tour: de l’Orangerie  (1972) au Grand Palais (1997), ‘in Georges de La Tour, exh., cat. Grand Palais, Paris, 1997, pp. 42-43, fig. 5.

Pierre Rosenberg, ‘Washington and Fort Worth Georges de La Tour,’ Burlington Magazine vol. CXXXXI, April 1997, pp. 285-286.

Robert Simon, Figure & Fantasy in French Painting 1650-1800, exh. cat. Berry-Hill, 1 January – 6 March 1999, pp. 14-16.

Essay

The rediscovery of an autograph painting by Georges de La Tour is an event of considerable importance. Now recognized as one of the greatest and most original of all French artists his autograph paintings are extremely rare. Thuillier lists no more than forty-eight in his catalogue raisonné of 1995 of which all but six are in public collections. That this discovery should be of a Magdalene is even more remarkable. This subject is one which is especially associated with La Tour and his treatments of it were his most sough-after compositions. That this discovery, after a most sensitive restoration carried out at the National Gallery, Washington DC should be so rapidly accepted into the canon of La Tour’s work is a tribute to its remarkable qualities which are evident despite the deterioration of the glazes in the shadows – a feature not only of La Tour but all Caravaggesque painting.

La Tour lived and worked in the Catholic province of Lorraine in northeast France. He grew up with a sophisticated culture which produced artists of the caliber of Jacques Bellange (1575-1616), Claude Deruet (1588-1660) and Jacques Callot (1592-1635). He spent most of his life painting in the Lunéville though he visited Paris in 1638 where he was honored with the title of Peintre Ordinaire du Roi. It is not known if La Tour  ever visited Rome but artists such as Jean Le Clerc (1587-1633) and Callot (through his prints) both introduced to the duchy the revolutionary art of tenebrism which was based upon Caravaggio’s exploration of the dramatic used to which light –  and especially candlelight – could be put. This same current also insisted upon the depiction of recognizably low-life figures in a religious context. La Tour was to exploit both aspect of Caravaggism but in a manner, tender, simplified and powerfully expressive which was uniquely his own and which makes him of the most recognizable painters of the seventeenth century. ❖