'Pardon in Brittany' (1896) by Gaston La Touche; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
The reason why today's painting by French painter Gaston La Touche, born on 29 October 1854, caught my eye while browsing the net, will be clear just by looking at the image. The light of the glowing candles is beautiful and I immediately wanted to know what scene is being depicted in this painting. I will come to that in a minute. La Touche was a Post-Impressionist painter whose first paintings were of working-class Parisians, done in a depressing style. He made the acquaintance of Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet and wished to study art with the latter. Manet refused him as a student and said there was nothing he could teach him. La Touche just needed to use a variety of colours and paint what he saw. Another friend of his, Félix Bracquemond, advised him to paint in the style of Watteau and Fragonard, who were known for their dreamy subjects, soft pastels and light themes. La Touche took the advice and burned almost all of his old paintings. He sought out scenes of beauty to suit the lighter mood of his new paintings and ended up in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France. Here, on the feast days of patron saints, were processions of pilgrims in traditional dress. The pilgrimages were called Pardons and the pilgrims would seek forgiveness. Together they walked in prayer and a priest granted them absolution. Which brings us to today's painting. We see a man leading a horse with a woman and child. It's almost as if the horse is suspended in space amongst a carpet of white lace bonnets. In front of the horse, the priest receives the penitents holding their candles. Although the scene is crowded, there is a quiet peacefulness to it. I think it's nice to know the story of a narrative painting. It sometimes makes you look at a painting differently. But with this painting, I think the main character is still the beautiful light of the glowing candles. The artist's English Wikipedia doesn't give much information, so I used this article.