Gaston La Touche (1854-1913)


Born in 1854 at St Cloud, near Paris, Gaston La Touche showed an early vocation for an artistic career, drawing and taking lessons from around age 10. La Touche never received any further formal training, but he came under the influence of two older painters, Félix Bracquemond and Edouard Manet. After the Paris Commune and the war, Manet, Degas and a group of painters, critics, poets and authors used to gather regularly at the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes to discuss art and other topical matters. La Touche also frequented this cafe where those he met included Emile Zola, Louis Edmond Duranty and Theodore Duret.

La Touche was not directly influenced by Manet's style but rather by the ideas the older man discussed with him. Sincerity, candour, integrity and a striving after the truth were the qualities to be sought in both life and art. During this period in his career, La Touche depicted grim scenes from the daily lives of the miners and labourers whose plight had already be brought to the notice of the general public by the social realism of Zola's novels, such as l'Assommoir and Germinal.

After 1890, however, there was a radical shift in the subject matter, palette and technique of La Touche's work. During the six years to 1896, he gradually, yet steadily evolved from realism to the idealism that was to be the hallmark of his oeuvre. He started to create a harmonious, luminous and charming world of parks and gardens, nymphs and fountains, fireworks and fetes-champetres, in which nature is depicted in terms of colour and light, yet with an element of fantasy which sets his work aside from that of the earlier Impressionist group.

Without doubt the single most important influence on La Touche was that of Felix Bracquemond. It was he who largely persuaded La Touche to abandon his sombre palette in favour of the spectrum of colour. It is also interesting to note that La Touche destroyed almost all the paintings he had done during his socio-realist phase; in 1891, he consigned fifteen years work to the flames of a bonfire in a single day.

La Touche's oeuvre does not really fall into a named category. He attempted his own form of divisionism, but continued to experiment with feathery brush strokes, each of a different shade, which give his pictures an ethereal serenity which seems far removed from the everyday world. La Touche painted many allegorical and some mythological paintings as well as land and waterscapes.

In 1889 he exhibited some of his Versailles views in Paris, followed the same year by an exhibition of watercolours at the Fine Art Society in London and a favourable article in the Studio magazine by Gabriel Mourey. The painter was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1900, and received an official commission to paint a fete at Versailles for the Elysée Palace in 1906.

La Touche exhibited regularly at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Société des Peintres et Sculpteurs as well as at the Société de la Peinture a l'Eau which he had founded in 1906 and of which he was President. A large show at the Galerie Georges Petit was held in 1909 and another at Boussod and Valadon in the Hague, some two months before his sudden death while working on a painting on 12th July, 1913.