Born in St. Cloud near Paris on 29 October 1854, Gaston La Touche demonstrated an early vocation for an artistic career. Little is known about his earliest training, only that he was under the tutelage of a M. Paul. At the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the family moved to Normandy, and it was there that the young artist became fascinated with the people of the countryside and with their tales and legends. It was in the woodlands and fields of Normandy that the artist’s penchant for the interpretation of imaginary scenes was nurtured and developed.
Although La Touche received very little in the way of formal artistic training, he was greatly influenced by the work of two artists; Felix Bracquemond (1833-1914) and Edouard Manet (1832-1883). Manet, Degas and a group of painters, poets, critics and authors would frequent the Café des Nouvelles Athenes in Paris to discuss art and the events of the day. La Touche was also a frequent habitué of the café where he met the realist writer Emile Zola, the author and art critic Louis Edmond Duranty and Théodore Duret, the first champion of the Impressionists. In 1877, La Touche formally asked Manet to take him on officially as his student to which the older artist replied that he had nothing to teach him, telling him only that he should paint what he saw and that there was no black and white, only color. The young artist took Manet at his word, and in 1883, it was written about La Touche, ‘La Touche n’emprunta rien au divin réalism de Manet, il apprit du moins de ce maître, qu’il adorait, à déterminer la valeur et l’effet sans surcharge inutile, par le seule prestige de la lumière et de la couleur’ (La Touche did not take on any of Manet’s divine realism, what he did at least learn from this master, whom he adored, was how to determine the value and effect without useless overloading, by using light and color)(Ouest-France, ‘Gaston La Touche: Les Compositions Gallantes’, 29 July 1883).
It is impossible to characterize the oeuvre of Gaston La Touche. Selina Baring MacLennan writes: ‘La Touche’s oeuvre does not fall into any particular category. He attempted his own form of divisionism, but continued to experiment with feathery brushstrokes, each of a different shade, giving his pictures and ethereal serenity and making them appear far removed from the everyday world. This ambiance carries over even into paintings of a more prosaic subject matter, as though the most ordinary event or gesture is somehow transformed under his brush’ (S. B. Maclennan, Gaston La Touche A Painter of Belle Epoque Dreams, Suffolk, 2009, p. 13).
Though this work has previously been sold as one of the scenes the artist undertook depicting Belle Époque balls, Roy Brindley and Selina Baring MacLennan believe it actually shows the artist - who has included a self portrait of himself seated on the stool at center - waiting for a verdict from some kind of artistic jury alongside a group of his peers. The use of light in the present work is a lovely example of the virtuoso brushwork for which Gaston La Touche is best known. The brushstrokes, saturated in color, create a shimmering effect of light filtering in from the room beyond the anxious group of men. Shorter saturated brush strokes also pick out the details of the light fixtures in the room, brilliantly rendering the appearance of light through glass.
We are grateful to Roy Brindley and Selina Baring MacLennan for their assistance with cataloguing this work and for confirming its authenticity. The present work will be included in their forthcoming Gaston La Touche catalogue raisonné.