Pardon in Brittany by Gaston La Touche

In the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful painting entitled “Pardon in Brittany” by Gaston La Touche. This painting is lovely in every respect, the figures are gentle and gracefully illuminated by candlelight.

Everything about this painting is masterful from the handling of the figures to the use of lighting from the glowing candles. The scene is solemn showing the priest giving dispensation to the faithful. The painting is crowded with people and yet because of the mood and the excellent handling of figures the scene is serene. The sky in the background is a pale violet tone in various hues showing the evening light, but the there is no atmosphere to the sky, it is almost like the back-drop to a stage set. The simple background is essential in bringing out the intensity of the mood of the painting. The figures on the horse holding a child lead by a horseman are the center of attention and not the priest who is directly below them.

In the space closest to the viewer you can see the laymen more clearly than any others for there are details of their faces and figures. The rest of the figures (aside from the priest and the horse figures) are essential indefinable. It is clear that most of the group are members of the church as can be denoted from the cluster of nun’s hats and veils that are the dominant clothing elements in the painting. The figures closest to the front are the darkest and give the composition the necessary dark tones to accommodate the lighting of the candles.

The real subject of this painting is the light not the priest or the horsemen. The use of light in this painting is extraordinary. There are few works of art from any time period that can match the quality of what lies before us here. The color of the sky is key to complimenting the tones of the various shades of blue that are richly worked all over the lower portion of the canvas. The glowing yellow light is exquisitely placed between the figures but in such a way that it does not increase the yellow hues of the light but rather increases the blue and turquoise tones of the figures. This is a most difficult task because white and yellow are the strongest colors in the spectrum and very difficult to tame. Without doubt this is one of the loveliest pieces in the Art Institute’s World-class collection.

Stephen F. Condren – Artist