A French painter and printmaker, Gaston La Touche was born at Saint Cloud to a well-to-do family on 29 October, 1854.
He was largely self taught and as a young man frequented the café La Nouvelle Athenes where he became friends with Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. In 1877, La Touche asked Manet to be his teacher. Manet declined saying that he had nothing to teach but advised La Touche to paint only what he saw. Manet said that in painting there is no black and white, only the colors of the rainbow. It would be years before La Touche followed this advice.
LaTouche admired Zola and did dry point illustrations for his 1879 novel L’Assommoir. La Touche’s early paintings were domestic scenes done in a 17th Century Dutch style. They were not successful and he burned most of them in 1891. He was influenced by his friend, Felix Bracquemond (an exhibitor at the first Impressionist Group Show in 1874) to use the colors and techniques of the Impressionists. La Touche developed his own distinctive brush work utilizing small strokes of color.
A group of artists led by Meisonnier and Puvis de Chavannes seceded from the traditional Paris Salon to form the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At the first exhibition of that group in 1890, La Touche exhibited two paintings Les Phlox and Les Peonies, which brought him critical acclaim.* According to Roy Brindley and Selina Evans who are preparing a La Touche Catalogue Raisonne! (in which this painting will be included):
After 1890 . . . 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; the creation of 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.
In 1900, La Touche received a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle as well as the Legion d’ honneur (knighthood) from the French Government. These honors were followed by several commissions from the French government for paintings at locations such as the Elysee Palace (1906) and the ministry of Justice (1910). In 1912 he provided decorations for the dining room of the ocean-liner La France.
La Touche exhibited regularly and founded the Societe! de la Peinture a l’eau. More than 300 of his works were exhibited in 1908 at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. Another large exhibition of his work was held in the Hague (at Boussod and Valadon) shortly before his death which occurred while he was painting on July 12, 1913.
His works can be found in many museums including the Pompidou (Musee d’art Moderne) and the Luxembourg Palace, Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago.
* La Touche’s painting Les Phlox was purchased by the French Government at the 1890 Exhibition and is currently in the Musee Municipal de la Roche-sur-Yon. Les Peonies was in a private collection for many years before being sold at auction by Christies, New York, in 1998 for $330,000 (hammer price).
Literature: Gabriel Mourney, The Work of Gaston La Touche, The Studio XVI (1899)
H. Frantz, ‘Gaston La Touche’, Xiiii (1908)
A. P. LaFontaine: Ungrand Peintre bas - Normand: Gaston La Touche (Calvados, 1935)
Forthcoming Gaston La Touche Catalogue Raisonne by Brindley and Evans.