GASTON LA TOUCHE
Gaston La Touche (1854-1913) was born in Saint-Cloud, a suburb of Paris. His artistic talent was evident from a young age and his parents paid for La Touche to have drawing lessons throughout his teenage years from a teacher known only as Monsieur Paul. At the start of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 the entire La Touche family moved to Normandy for safety and La Touche’s formal artistic training came to an abrupt end.
In 1875 La Touche made his debut at the Paris Salon with a bas-relief portrait of the actor François Jules Edmond Got and several etchings. In the late 1970s La Touche came into contact with Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Félix Bracquemond as well as leading artistic and literary figures including Emile Zola, at the infamous meeting place for Impressionist painters Le Café de la Nouvelle Athènes in Paris. While Manet had no direct influence on La Touche’s work, they shared in common, as did Zola, a commitment to presenting the truth through their art.
In his early work La Touche depicted bleak scenes of social realism, including representations of everyday lives of miners and labourers, whose plight had already been brought to the notice of the general public by the social realism of Zola’s novels, such as L’Assommoir and Germinal. Many of these early works were unfortunately burnt by the artist in later years.
The 1890s marked a departure in La Touche’s style. Felix Bracquemond, the painter, engraver, ceramist and lithographer, encouraged La Touche to brighten his colour palette and depict more light hearted subjects, following the examples of the genre of the fête galantesby Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. Bracquemond and his wife Marie hosted regular Sunday luncheons, where painters such as Alfred Sisley and Henri Fantin-Latour mixed with La Touche and the likes of Gustave Geffroy, the notable art critic. The groups engaged in lively discussions at the Villa Brancas and these clearly impacted La Touche’s style and choice of subject matter with balls, social gatherings, allegorical and mythological subjects becoming the artists fait accompli.
La Touche’s oeuvre does not fall into a particular category. The lighter palette and aesthetic of his work from the 1890s onwards now define his artistic career. La Touche was also an avid landscape and portrait painter and took on the manner of Puvis de Chavannes. His representation of nature through light and colour chimes with the approach of the Impressionists, while La Touche’s work also has an added element of fantasy that sets him apart from the group. He attempted his own form of divisionism, but continued to experiment with feathery brushstrokes, each of a different shade, which give his pictures an ethereal serenity and an appearance far removed from the everyday world. This ambience carries over even into paintings of more prosaic subject matter, as though the most ordinary event or gesture is somehow transformed under his brush.
La Touche exhibited widely in Paris, with great success at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Société des Peintres et Sculptures, as well as in London at the Fine Art Society in 1899. He was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1900. He received commissions to decorate the Town Hall in Saint-Cloud and the reception hall of the Hôtel de Bourvallais, the works for this can now be seen at the Palais du Luxembourg. La Touche also illustrated works by Emile Zola. In 1908 a large exhibition of his work was held at the Galeries Georges Petit, followed by a second exhibition at Boussod and Valadon in The Hague a few months before he died in 1913. La Touche’s paintings can be found in numerous private collections and in museums such as the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the Walters Art Museum in Maryland.