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La Tour’s cousins

28 September 2016

Ever since the publication of La Tour’s wills, there has been something of a puzzle concerning the beneficiaries he describes as his “cousins”, among them the tailor Raphael Joret whom I mentioned before, but also (from the 1768 will, as transcribed by Maurice Tourneux):

A mon cousin Deschamps, chanoine de Laon, à la fille de son frère, à ses sœurs Masse et Mauclair, mes cousines, à chacun cent pistoles; deux mille livres à mes arrières petittes cousines Beaudemont, qu’elles partageront, et [à] sa sœur Joseph, rue du Petit-Pont, à Saint-Quentin, et à leurs cousins Dominique et Jean Baptiste Devrin

The fact that La Tour leaves money to these relatives suggests that the exact relationships are worth exploring. As you will be aware from my last two posts (more or less about his parents), I have been spending time in the parish registers of Noyon, Laon and Saint-Quentin looking into his family, and I think I have unravelled the connections that previously eluded my research.

You can find the key documents once again set out in the chronological table, with a number of further dates of actes for individuals in the genealogies for La Tour, Deschamps, Garbe, Havart, Joret, Masse. I wish there were a simple visual to present all these connections, but the genealogy software on the market is tedious to use and childishly simplistic in the graphical output; and my patience doesn’t stretch to drawing an old-fashioned pedigree on a very large sheet of paper. But here’s a terribly oversimplified version:


Armed with the dates in these genealogies you can find the deeds online (in the Archives départementales de l’Aisne ou de l’Oise), with my transcriptions in my table. I will only burden this post with what turned out to be the hardest to find (since I didn’t have the dates or parishes for any of these documents), but which is touching in its way.


It is the baptism of the daughter of the niece of La Tour’s mother, who you will recall was named Reine Havart or Avart (curiously in Laon the spelling Havart is standard; in Saint-Quentin, Avart is used). Reine’s niece married Louis Deruys (sometimes Deruis or Deruis; but previous scholars have settled for Dervet or Devrin), who was, it turns out, the son of a Latin tutor (“répétiteur de Latin” in another document). Louis himself was a humble manouvrier or labourer, but later became a jardinier; his son Jean-Baptiste (who appears in La Tour’s will), remained a mulquinier, or weaver. So some of these families went down as well as up.

Anyway: you can see that little Marie-Anne-Reine Duruys, who was given the name of the pastellist’s mother, could not be held over the font by her, as Reine Havart was dead; but La Tour’s stepmother, Marie Francoise Duliège, was in effect step-god-mother to the girl.

Further down the same page there is another event, which unlike the baptism was attended as was normal only by father and curate, its sadness only partly dimmed by the passage of nearly three hundred years and the knowledge of the frequency of infant mortality:


Here however is a summary of the key relationships as they emerge from dozens of similar documents (the majority far less legible than these two).

La Tour’s mother was the niece of Charles Havart, a tapissier from Noyon who settled in Saint-Quentin. As we have seen his daughter married Louis Deruÿs, while her brother Pierre Avart was also a manouvrier; Pierre’s daughter Agathe married Claude-Nicolas Baudemont, a mulquinier: they were the parents of the young girls Angélique and Victoire Baudemont who were mentioned in La Tour’s will, as also was Agathe’s twin sister Joseph [sic, both in the registers and in La Tour’s will].


On his father’s side there were several connections with the Garbe family of blacksmiths. La Tour’s paternal grandmother Marie was the daughter of François Garbe (1610–1678), maréchal ferrant in Laon; her brother Nicolas married Elisabeth, Jean de La Tour’s niece (La Tour’s father was parrain to one of her numerous children), while Marie’s sister Marguerite married Pierre Caton, a tapissier in Laon; their daughter Anne-Françoise married écrivain Denis Deschamps, father of La Tour’s subject chanoine Claude-Charles Deschamps; one of the canon’s half-sisters, Noëlle, married an Augustin Masse, marchand de tabac à Paris: their daughter Charlotte Masse (pictured) married Jean-Robert Dorizon, the son of a tailor. Finally, “la petite-cousine Morelli, vitrier, à Sceaux” is Louise-Catherine , daughter of the chanoine’s brother Pierre-Denis Deschamps; she married Pierre Morel, vitrier-peintre at Verrières-le-Buisson.

Confusingly (although this has been known for some time) Augustin Masse was not related to the marchand orfèvre, Grégoire Masse, who, in 1752, married the sister of Dufloquet, comte de Réals, a senior cavalry officer (from an altogether different level of the social hierarchy): that Mme Masse was another La Tour subject, but not a relative.

The family circumstances, on both sides, were clearly artisanal, not even bourgeois. What is remarkable is that La Tour – an artist who chose his clientele with a close eye on their ability to pay, if not with outright snobbery – retained contact with so many of these people who worked with their hands and owned little. It is not that they were simply mentioned in the 1784 will, made when he was senile, had returned to his native town, and may have been in contact with them; but they mostly appear in the 1768 will, alongside calculations of his annual income (a formidable 19,975 livres). One might cynically conjecture that his impoverished relatives badgered him for money, to which he developed a standard reply: I’ll mention you in my will. Or one may guess that he felt a real sense of family loyalty, akin to the motives that led to his charitable foundations. Documents can only take us as far as they go.


From → Art history

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  1. La Tour’s abbé Deschamps | Neil Jeffares

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