The four women who appear in The Bonaventure (a work dating from the 1630s exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) that not even the viewer – that is, us – is aware of what is happening until they look very well at all the details or At best, you have an art historian by your side like Sara rubayo. “The painter wants whoever sees the painting to look at the top of it,” he explains, “so that he believes that what is happening in the scene is a dispute between the young and the old, but, in reality, it’s just a trick. ” What we really see in the painting is neither more nor less than a robbery. While the young man and all the spectators attend to the discussion that he has with the old woman on account of a disagreement in the payment for having read his hand, the other three women – the young women – rob the boy, who in a matter of seconds is left without gold chain and no coin bag. But what is behind the scenes? And, above all, how much does the subject determine the context in which the Frenchman Georges de La Tour paints this painting?
“We must bear in mind”, Rubayo tends, “that we are in the seventeenth century and that, at that time, robbery was punishable by torture, and even a person convicted of it could end up with a brand of red-hot iron to identify you as a thief or, in the most extreme cases, hanged and dismembered. ” Therefore, La Tour does not show us a comic scene, but one full of tension. The characters are not smiling or relaxed. Neither the thieves, who, knowing the risk involved in their role, have gestures that exude concentration, nor the young man, who, although he does not suspect anything about the theft, stares at the old woman to avoid what he considers a scam. “Besides,” adds the art historian, “we know that the boy’s serious grimace also has another reason: if he is caught consulting divinatory arts – such as palmistry – he risks excommunication.”
This work has been dated between 1630 and 1639 and was carried out in Lorraine (France). In this case, as in so many others, the date and place where Georges de La Tour painted the painting are essential to understand why the painter chose that subject. “It was a troubled time and an area very battered by hunger, the plague – for which La Tour would die in 1652 – and by the Thirty Years’ War, which, in practice, brought with it a large number of sieges, looting and fires. At that time, however, La Tour did not do so badly. He rose up the social ladder, was made a nobleman and amassed a fortune speculating in cereals. “All this suggests that gold coins, those that young women try to steal the boy, they played a very important role both in his life and in his works “, Sara Rubayo slides. It is also a moralizing work:” The French artist wants to tell us, through his canvas , that many times the arrogance, in this case outlined in the young man’s face, hides a poorly concealed innocence; while the very innocence that the group of women could convey is actually cunning. ”
A lost and recovered painter
Today Georges de La Tour is one of the most valued French artists, but it was not always like that. “In his time”, Rubayo recalls, “he was very successful, but after his death his work fell into oblivion until it almost disappeared”. As early as the 20th century, hard work shared by historians and art dealers resulted in the recovery of their works and the restoration of their reputation. “He is an artist halfway between classicism and caravaggism, two reactions to the mannerism that had prevailed up to now in the cultural climate of the country and the time,” he points out. While Georges de La Tour’s compositions were classicist, the themes resemble those of Caravaggio.
“If we look at the works of George de La Tour”, the historian completes, “we observe that there are two very marked periods in his production”. During the first stage of his life, he focuses on daytime scenes, with rich and vivid colors, traditional scenes starring the most diverse characters, including peasants, rogues, soldiers and quarrels. In his second stage, from his 45 years until his death, he painted mostly “nights” or “nocturnal ones”. They are those works in which he presents dark interior scenes with lonely and melancholic characters illuminated with a single candle or a lamp. There is no doubt, however, that the work that we present this week at ‘La Galería’ belongs to the first stage. The women who star in it are still mischievous and the scene takes place in broad daylight.