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Less about La Tour’s family

24 September 2016

In my last piece I added a little about La Tour’s mother and her background which I hope was of interest. But sometimes it is the duty of the researcher to call into question parts of a story which have been repeated so widely as to seem beyond doubt. Several niggles while I was revising my chronological table seem to fall into that bracket, each perhaps because they seem so plausible but also because you find them in printed books that are nearly a century old – and then in more recent ones by scholars whose thoroughness is otherwise exemplary. And as so often it turns out to be harder to prove a negative, I put these out in the hopes that one of you can provide the missing evidence that will allow me to restore these parts of the conventional narrative. You may however remember my earlier analysis of how the mythology around La Tour spread from even earlier sources, and I fear we have more trips to London here.

The first point is a very small one about La Tour’s father François. In Besnard & Wildenstein’s chronology, the section on the first page (B&W p. 27) headed 1596-1704 appears to reprint Georges Grandin’s 1894 notice. But silently and unsourced they introduce this sentence, after the correct statement that François was chantre at Saint-Quentin:

L’extrait baptistaire de son fils François le qualifie d’ingénieur-géographe (corps créé en 1696)

Three of his sons were called François, and perhaps there were others (although I have been through most of the parish registers without finding another); but none of these entries indicates his profession as “ingénieur-géographe”. One wonders if there is a confusion with the unrelated Louis Brion de La Tour. This sentence has however been universally repeated, possibly because an interest in cartography demonstrated in his aerial view of Saint-Quentin and his military background would seem plausibly to support the idea.

But what about this military background, even more widely repeated? And no less plausibly given my recent discovery of the fact that he was living in Noyon in 1699 when he married the pastellist’s mother; soldiers were so often stationed in such places. But as far as I can see no document mentions this apart from the evidence first published by Grandin (in the same 1896 article where he misidentifies La Tour’s mother, as discussed in my last post). This document is the record of a law suit taken in the Tribunal civil de Laon in 1694 by one “Jean-François De La Tour, trompette de la compagnie de Monseigneur le duc du Maine, au régiment des carabiniers”.

It does not seem to have troubled Grandin (or any subsequent authors who have republished this without question that while de La Tour is rather a common name, nowhere else is the pastellist’s father given the forename Jean: he is everywhere simply François – including on his 5 January 1670 baptismal register entry. (You will of course find this and the 1694 transcript in the chronological table I mentioned before.)

Further the social question arises of how the son of a humble mason could enter this élite regiment, founded by Louis XIV personally and entrusted to the command of his favourite son, the duc du Maine. You might say that perhaps a musician was allowed in on the basis of skill, the social rank overlooked; but in 1694 people of such quality did not sue officers. Further nowhere does François de La Tour cite his former rank in any document. In the absence of more evidence I’m inclined to think that La Tour’s father was not in the army at all.

Finally I turn to the sad story which appears in every account of La Tour’s life, and which isn’t in dispute. This concerns his liaison with his cousin Anne Bougier, her pregnancy and the birth of her illegitimate child (details again in my table), for which as we all know La Tour felt permanently guilty, and for which he made amends through his philanthropic donations many years later.

But one aspect of this does seem to be another myth. Tourneux this time was responsible, although it again is widely repeated by modern authors – including by me (though not by B&W). And again it makes us feel better to be told that the unfortunate girl did marry, soon after the affair with her cousin, and settled down with her husband, a workman called Bécasse, in the parish of Saint-Thomas in Saint-Quentin where she died in 1740. I compounded this by finding an earlier register entry for the baptism of a child from this legitimate marriage, in 1728. But examining these entries carefully, they don’t refer to a Marie-Anne Bougier at all, but to a Marie-Anne Bruge or Bruche: the writing in each case is quite clear. It’s neither a likely phonetic mistranscription nor a likely pseudonym if she wanted to disguise her past; nor do the witnesses seem to have any connection with the pastellist’s family. And the age given at her death (unlikely to be exaggerated) was 45, so that she would have been born in 1695.


Now it’s true that  we have not yet found Anne’s own birth certificate, although I’ve scoured the registers at La Fère for 1701 (the age and place she gave her tribunal) and years on either side, back to 1695. (I could find no entry for her stillborn child in the hôpital de Laon either.) But I fear that Anne’s illegitimate child did indeed remove her chances of legitimate union.

There is however one further discovery, which I find almost as disconcerting: as we know she was the daughter of the pastellist’s aunt, Marie-Anne de La Tour, who married a Philippe Bougier, a fellow chantre in the church. The marriage took place in Laon in 1695  (17 mai) when Philippe, a widower, was 26 years old (which was one of the reasons I continued to believe Tourneux’s identification). But I’ve since located Marie-Anne de La Tour’s baptismal entry:


She married Bougier when she was barely twelve years old. This was no dynastic match in which contracts were entered between children to be consummated when they reached adulthood. There is likely to have been a pressing reason, but whether it was Anne Bougier or an unrecorded sibling the registers do not vouchsafe.

From → Art history

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  1. La Tour’s cousins | Neil Jeffares

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