Maurice-Quentin de La Tour

Dates1704 - 1788
BornSaint-Quentin, France
DiedSaint-Quentin, France

Finished pastels emerged as a format for elite portraiture in France in the late 1600s. In the 1700s, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour was among the most celebrated and accomplished pastel portraitists. His success led to commissions from the royal family, the French court, the bourgeoisie, and artistic and intellectual circles.

Delatour initially apprenticed as a painter but was attracted to the immediacy and rapid execution of pastel. By the late 1720s he had broken into the Parisian art market and in 1735, established his reputation as a portraitist with a pastel of Voltaire. This portrait announced the liveliness, informality, and virtuoso technique that would characterize his work. Two years later, La Tour made another splash with the only pastels exhibited at the Salon: a self-portrait and a portrait of artist François Boucher's wife.

Seeking to enhance the prestige of pastel, La Tour developed new approaches to the medium. He pioneered the use of adhesives and joining multiple sheets of paper for surfaces so large that they had no precedent. The latter innovation is evident in La Tour's full-length portrait of Gabriel Bernard de Rieux in the Getty's collection. Toward the end of his immensely successful career La Tour had amassed a substantial fortune and founded an art school and several charitable organizations.