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Maurice-Quentin de La Tour’s parents

19 September 2016

Nearly two years ago I posted a piece with some trouvailles concerning Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, introducing the Chronological Table on my website in which I am updating the table that was originally published by Georges Wildenstein and which forms the main structure of the text of Besnard & Wildenstein’s 1928 monograph (apart from the catalogue). The format has always struck me as a particularly useful way to present complex, untidy information so that readers can find what they want. I have tried to show the extent of additions to the 1928 edition by printing the original text in Times New Roman and new material in Garamond (you can ignore the typeface quite easily if the progress of scholarship is of no interest).

Several important documents were still missing in 2014. Firstly, although we knew the dates of the birth of La Tour’s father François and of his grandfather Jean’s marriage to Marie Garbé, these came from Georges Grandin, former conservateur du musée de Laon, who omitted to tell us the parish for these documents or to provide transcriptions with the details that (occasionally) make such research illuminating. As it happens the parish was Saint-Michel, Laon, and you can find these recent additions in my revised table (which also has the dates, document codes etc.). François’s baptism (Laon, Saint-Michel, 5 janvier 1670):


Jean de La Tour’s marriage to Marie Garbé (Laon, Saint-Michel, 2 février 1669):


Incidentally proponents of the “Delatour” spelling will find no support here.

Grandin also searched in vain for documents relating to La Tour’s mother, Reine Havart. He came up with a silly theory that she was the Reine-Françoise Havart, daughter of François Havart, avocat au parlement, gouverneur, maire perpétuel de Bus and Marie Cressonnier, who appeared in a 1691 document when she already had legal rights (and so could not have been born in 1673 as other documents suggested). In any case this is wrong (“Reine-Françoise” Havart even appeared in Debrie & Salmon 2000). Grandin, and all other researchers who (as far as I am aware) have been unable to take this further, were looking in the wrong place. Courtesy of Geneanet (where it has recently been indexed by Christophe de Mazancourt, to whom we should be most grateful), I found the key document – the marriage of François de La Tour and Reine Havart. It took place neither in Laon nor in Saint-Quentin, but in Noyon (parish of Saint-Germain) in 1699 (20 mars). Here it is:


Again you will find the transcription in my table. What emerges is that François de La Tour was living in Noyon, the town where Reine was born. Further searches, now knowing where to look (what town at least: unfortunately there were a number of different parishes), elicited the parish register entries for the marriage of Reine’s parents, Louis Havart and Anne Joret, in 1669 (11 novembre), this time in Saint-Martin de Noyon:


And for Reine’s baptism, in 1673 (5 janvier) at Noyon, Saint-Hilaire:


From these we can establish a clear picture of Reine’s background. Her father’s family were tapissiers, while that of her mother, Anne Joret, were tailors. Hence we can see, for example, how Maurice-Quentin was related to the Raphaël Joret, tailleur, described as a cousin in his will, a statement which had mystified us until now (Anne’s brother François Joret moved to Beaune and, despite having raised himself to the level of “grammarien, écrivain et arithméticien” married into another family of tailors called Terrion; their son Raphaël stuck to the trade). From Reine’s parents’ marriage we see that she had an uncle, also a tapissier, who lived in Saint-Quentin. While barely legible, his name is Charles; and he was evidently the godfather of the pastellist’s brother Charles, baptised at Saint-Quentin (Saint-Jacques) 14 avril 1702.

All three towns were not far apart (about 50 km) by today’s standards, but distant enough for the connection to be possibly significant. Noyon also perhaps provides a clue to another puzzle. The pastellist’s own baptismal entry is well known (the Goncourts printed the transcription first provided by Desmaze; it was reprinted in B&W, and so is in Times Roman print in my table; there is a facsimile in Debrie), but nothing is said about his godparents:

son parrain, Me Maurice Mégniol; la marraine, Damelle Marie Meniolle, épouse de noble homme Mr Jean Boutillier l’aîné, ancien mayeur de [Saint-Quentin]

I provided a gloss on Boutillier, a marchand drapier, mayeur en 1682, anobli par lettres patentes de juin 1696; but did not until now make the link with the Maurice Méniolle (c.1685-1761), bourgeois de Noyon who was a member of an influential family with links in both towns.

Another document shows that Reine’s sister Anne married just a few months later in 1699; her husband, Joseph Callais, from Aumale, near Rouen, was greffier et receveur de l’évêché et comté de Noyon; their son became receveur général des aides au département de Charly, thus illustrating a pattern of ascension which was not uncommon in the ancien régime.

None of these documents has the significance of say the apprenticeship deed published by François Marandet in 2002, but cumulatively they contribute to a picture of the artist’s social situation – and reveal just how far his extraordinary genius took him. But it is I think of interest to learn just how deeply La Tour was connected with the world of tapissiers and tailleurs (just as, you will recall, Perronneau and other pastellists were brought up among perruquiers; the greatest French portraitist of the previous century, Hyacinthe Rigaud, was the son of a tailor): he was surrounded from birth by textiles and patterns in an age when people spent a vast percentage of their means on clothing (and wardrobe items were listed in detail in estate inventories), and this must have influenced his eye.

Some of my transcriptions contain errors for reasons which will be obvious from the images above: I shall of course be grateful for corrections, and also for any further documents which relate to La Tour or his pictures. Actually let me rephrase that: I shall be genuinely pleased to be told of the mistakes in my clumsy attempts to render these documents into something a computer can cope with, and I shall be thrilled if anyone can direct me to what I’ve missed. There must be invoices and bills and other material out there which I’m not going to come across without your help, and I hope the sight of these examples will make you share my enthusiasm for gathering them together.

From → Art history

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