Georges de La Tour
- Georges de la Tour
- Saint James the Great
- Oil on canvas
Paris, collection of Abbot François de Camps (1643-1723), before 1694 ?;
Where acquired by Canon Jean-Baptiste Nualart (who died on 3 July 1694) for Saint John chapel in the choir of the Saint Cecilia Cathedral at Albi, as recorded in an account dated 8 March 1698;
Again recorded in the 1795 Revolutionary inventory and located in the same chapel (wrongly said to be property of Bandinelli);
French private collection.
Literature on the present painting
J.-P. Cuzin, « La Tour en 2005 : dix questions », in A. Takahashi, J.-P. Cuzin and D. Salmon, Georges de La Tour, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, March 8 - May 29, 2005, Edition including texts in French, pp. 205-216 (in Japanese, pp. 23-31), p. 210, fig. 21 (in Japanese, p. 26, fig. 11) ; pp. 188-189, illustrated in colour ; p. 176, no. 44, reproduced in colour;
P. Rosenberg, « Un nouveau chef-d'oeuvre de Georges de La Tour. Le Saint Jérôme récemment réapparu à Madrid », in Boletín del Museo del Prado, T. XXIII, no. 41, 2005, pp. 46-59, fig. 2, reproduced.
Literature on the series and copy
Procèz-verbal de la visite [par l'archevêque Charles le Goux de La Berchère] à l'église métropolitaine et du chapitre d'Alby en 1698 et 1699, inventory of the Albi Cathedral of 8 March 1698;
Mémoire des effets concernant les Arts qui se trouvent dans le district d'Alby, département du Tarn, et qui méritent la plus grande considération, etc., inventory of the Albi Cathedral of 1795 (Archives Nationales, F 17A 1231, dossier 4, pièce 44);
R. Huyghe, « L'influence de La Tour. Une oeuvre perdue de Georges de La Tour », in L'Amour de l'Art, no. 9, 1946, pp. 255-58;
F.-G. Pariset, Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1948, p. 231, pl. 34;
P. Rosenberg and J. Thuillier, Georges de La Tour, exhibition catalogue, Orangerie des Tuilleries, Paris, May 10 - September 25, 1972, pp. 126-131, nos. 4-6 (reproduced pp. 126 and 129-30), and pp. 239-40, nos. 34-42 (reproduced pp. 226-227);
J. Thuillier, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1973, p. 88, nos. 7-19, reproduced;
P. Rosenberg and F. Macé de l'Epinay, Georges de La Tour. Vie et Œuvre, Fribourg, 1973, pp. 92-9;
B. Nicolson and C. Wright, Georges de La Tour, London, 1974, p. 187, no. 45, figs. 22 and 32;
J. Thuillier, Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1992, pp. 46-57, and pp. 282-83, reproduced;
P. Conisbee, Georges de La Tour and his world, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, October 6, 1996 - January 5, 1997, Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, February 2 - May 11, 1997, pp. 43-49, and pp. 263-64, nos. 6-8;
J.-P. Cuzin, « Le Christ et les apôtres » in J.-P. Cuzin, P. Rosenberg and J. Thuillier, Georges de La Tour, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, October 3, 1997 - January 26, 1998, pp. 84-103, nos. 1-11c, reproduced;
J.-C. Boyer, « Les Apôtres de Georges de La Tour, de Paris à Albi », in Les Apôtres de Georges de La Tour. Réalités et virtualités, exhibition catalogue supplement, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, April 24 - June 20, 2004, pp. 47-60.
This recently rediscovered work, unpublished and misunderstood while in private hands for centuries, is now recognized as an important work of Georges de la Tour, one of the most interesting and enigmatic artists of his time.1 La Tour is widely considered the leading artist of the French Caravaggesque movement in the early 17th century, his work clearly reflecting the tendencies of the earlier Italian master, especially in his imitation of the dramatic chiaroscuro which defines the style. His influence on other artists and his artistic abilities are highly regarded today, despite the fact that he was virtually forgotten in the three centuries following his death. Only in the last 50 years have art historians begun to redevelop a keen interest in La Tour, and the reconstruction of his oeuvre has resulted in the discovery of 35 works that are fully attributed to him. The reappearance of the Saint James the Greater represents a significant addition to the corpus of the artist's work, and provides a more full understanding of one of his most important artistic achievements: the so-called Albi Series.
The Albi Series:
The present painting is one of a series of thirteen canvases representing the Blessing Christ and the Twelve Apostles, christened the "Albi Series" after their earliest known location, in the cathedral of that city (see Cuzin, 2005, p. 210). The series has been partially reassembled over the last few decades, and the rediscovery of the Saint James the Greater further reveals much about the complexity of La Tour's work.
Saint James the Greater is the sixth original canvas from this prestigious group, thought to have been largely destroyed, which is known to be extant. The make up of the group was preserved in almost its entirety in a series of copies of later date, now in the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi. Of the original canvases, only two have remained in Albi (together with these copies), and were accounted for over the intervening years: a Saint James the Lesser (fig. 1) and Saint Jude Thaddeus (fig. 2). The museum preserves eleven paintings in total with two Apostles of unknown identity having disappeared completely. The two missing works most likely depicted Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Matthew or Saint Bartholomew.
Like the Saint James the Greater, three other originals have subsequently been rediscovered. Saint Philip was the first to reappear on the French market in 1941 (now Norfolk, Chrysler Museum of Art; fig. 3), followed by Saint Andrew, sold in Monaco on June 21, 1991 (Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, on loan from a Swiss private collection; fig. 4).2 The next day, Saint Thomas was also offered at auction in Monaco and bought by a Japanese collector; in 2003, the painting was purchased by the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo (fig. 5). Why the group was largely disassembled has remained somewhat of a mystery. A theory proposed at the La Tour Exhibition of 1972 held at the Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, reasonably speculated that the original series by La Tour was replaced by copies executed by a later hand so as to avoid costly restoration.3 The re-emergence of these three paintings on the market along with Saint James the Greater implies that the restorers originally handling the works copied the series and also kept the originals, "improving" their condition as much as possible so as to enhance their resale value, a common practice in their profession at the time.
The Original Location of the Albi Series:
Although moved there some years after their creation (see below), the original and complete set of Christ and the Twelve Apostles was first recorded in the Saint John chapel, the sixth chapel of the Choir of the Cathedral of Saint Cecilia in Albi in a reference made to them on March 8, 1698, when the Archbishop Charles Le Goux de Berchère paid a visit to the church :
(...) Il y a à l'autel un gradin peint et doré, un crucifix et quatre chandeliers de bois dorés, donnés pour le dt. Autel par le feu Sr. Nualart chanoine, avec treize tableaux représentant Notre Seigneur et les douze apostres, dans des bordures dorées pour demeurer attachées fixes autour de la chapelle où ils sont.4
In 1795, during the revolutionary seizures, the thirteen works were again reported in the same location according to a memo most certainly written by J.-F. Massol, former canon of Saint Cecilia:
On y voit un St. Jean l'Evangéliste d'après le Poussin, et autour 12 petits tableaux, grandeur de portraits, représentant les 12 apôtres d'une touche forte et rembrunie comme celle de Michel-Ange Caravage. On les a toujours crus originaux. Un chanoine italien et amateur, du nom de Bandinelli, les y plaça.5
The two texts seemingly disagree as to the original donor of the series, but scholars now agree that the earlier text of 1698 seems more plausible, assigning this gift to Canon Jean-Baptiste Nualart, who died in July 1694. Nualart's is buried in the chapel in which the paintings were hung and there is clear mention that he paid for the decoration during his lifetime (qui vivens hanc capellam suis sumptibus ornavit).6 Jean-Baptise Nualart, a self-described political refugee forced into exile after the revolt of Catalonia against Madrid, was further linked to the thirteen paintings in the Register of the Chapter of Saint Cecilia, a record that dates from 1693 - 1703. Nualart organized with Abbot Francois de Camps to have the paintings sent to the chapel from Paris and the Register records the arrival of the paintings. For unknown reason, two of the paintings arrived later than the other eleven, and the prolonged transfer of these two was recorded from August 27, 1694 to May 13, 1695.
As for the second reference, written in 1795, Jerome Bandinelli was at one time linked to the Saint John chapel, but despite Massol's assertion, it seems unlikely that he was the original donor of the series. He died in April 1671, at the age of seventy, and his tomb in a chapel nearby.
The Dating of the Albi Series:
There is some debate as to the exact position of the series in the chronology of Georges de La Tour's work, but historians concur that it dates from the beginning of the artist's career. Jean-Pierre Cuzin and Jacques Thuillier both consider the Albi Apostles to be the first extant paintings by La Tour. Cuzin suggests they date to 1614/15, a time when La Tour was in Paris, or to 1620/22 when he moved to Lunéville at the age of 27 or 29. He argues that despite the strength of execution in the paintings, some figures still appear rough and the study of the form has not reached full maturity (see Cuzin, 2005, p. 210).
Pierre Rosenberg, according to the timeline suggested by Philip Conisbee, believes that the series is slightly later, after other works like The Payment of Taxes (Lviv, The Art Gallery Lviv, Ukraine) and Old Men (The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Collection; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie; Museum Bergues; see Conisbee, 1996/97, pp. 260-64, and Cuzin, Rosenberg and Thuillier, 1997/98, p. 85). Finally, Benedict Nicolson and Christopher Wright thought the series could be dated to the early 1620's (see Nicolson and Wright, 1974, p. 187). Regardless of the slight variations in dates, historians agree that the thirteen works were certainly during a period when the artist was beginning to refine his natural talent and skill.
Iconography and Stylistic influences:
The theme of Christ and the twelve apostles was quite popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and was portrayed by various artists including Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Jacques Bellange and Jacques Callot. The figures of La Tour differ from those of his predecessors in their almost brutal realism. Nicolson has suggested that this may have been due to the influence of Hendrick Ter Brugghen, as seen most closely in his figures of Saint Luke and Saint Mark, which hang in the town hall of Deventer (see Nicolson and Wright, 1974, figs. 33 and 34).
Questions about stylistic influences in the work of La Tour have been pervasive in the minds of many scholars. There are several possible influences that may have played a significant role in his stylistic development and his unique combination of naturalism and a dramatic use of light. Pierre Rosenberg defends the assumption of extensive artistic travel in Italy that would have exposed him to the Roman Caravaggesque School. Cuzin is not convinced and rejects the idea as one that raises too many contradictions. As is mentioned above, some believe that Ter Bruggen and the Utrecht School provided the influence for many of his autograph works. And still yet others believe his style was developed in his native Lorraine. La Tour's realistic approach to his subjects, ordinary attitudes, and strong affinity for contemporary costumes continue to beg the question of where the direct influence on his work was developed.
Far from representing venerable disciples of Christ recognizable only by their attributes, La Tour has envisioned the Apostles as humble peasants with heavy beards, dressed in contemporary costumes. The men are portrayed with an extremely realistic appearance, close to pure portraiture, seemingly frozen in ordinary poses. They look down or avert their eyes. The painter emphasizes the face and hands, detailing each wrinkle on the forehead, revealing crooked fingers and dirty nails. There is no specific decor, instead neutral backgrounds focus the viewer and draw their attention to the Apostles.
Saint James the Greater exudes this strength and simplicity of conception. The plain clothes of the Apostle convey a sense of extreme sobriety. Large scallop shells held with metal hooks to a gray-blue cape trim his apparel and hat. He wears a deep purple shirt and the whole costume is tied with a gray-white belt echoing that which belongs to the Saint Philip in Norfolk. In this respect, this autograph composition by La Tour differs undeniably from its copy in the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi. Saint James is looking away with more peaceful eyes here, showing confidence through a soft, subtle handling of the surface, unlike its copy in which a hint of anxiety is perceptible.
We are grateful to Mr Eric Turquin who first re-attributed the painting to Georges de La Tour.
1 Saint James the Great was first illustrated by Jean-Pierre Cuzin in the Tokyo exhibition catalogue in 2005, p. 176, no. 44, p. 189 and p. 210, fig. 21.
2 In the 1991 sale, this painting was mistakenly identified as Saint Bartholomew.
3 The archives of Albi mention in this respect two obscure painters, Jacques Louis and Guidi Bosia, who in 1820 started the restoration of several chapels at the request of the cathedral authorities. It is likely that the intervention of the restorers was not limited to murals but also interfered with the paintings of the Apostles (Albi, Archives diocésaines, Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Cécile).
4 "There is at the altar a painted and gilt step, a crucifix and four chandeliers in giltwood, given for the said altar by the late Sr. Nualart, canon, with thirteen paintings depicting Our Lord and the twelve apostles, in the gilt inset frames placed around the chapel where they are located."
5 "One sees a Saint John the Evangelist after Poussin, and 12 little paintings around, portrait size, representing the 12 apostles in a strong and dark style like that of Michelangelo Caravaggio. One believes them all to be originals. An Italian canon and lover of the arts, by the name of Bandinelli, put them there."
6 "Who during his lifetime decorated this chapel at his own expense."