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The Cover
November 2, 2011

Pardon in Brittany

JAMA. 2011;306(17):1836. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1586

Gaston La Touche (1854-1913) was born at Saint Cloud, near Paris. As a boy he took drawing lessons, which were discontinued when his family moved to Normandy during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This was the extent of his formal training in art. When he returned to Paris he opened a studio and spent many evenings at the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes talking with other painters, such as Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, who were willing to share their knowledge and experience with him. La Touche asked Manet to take him on as a student, but Manet declined, saying he had nothing to teach him other than to paint what he saw and to use a variety of colors. La Touche may have winced when he heard this, because he was a poor colorist. His primary subjects were working-class Parisians, painted in a depressing style that reflected the influence of the novelist Émile Zola. One of La Touche's few successes in this phase of his career was a series of illustrations in drypoint for one of Zola's novels, L’Assommoir, about a construction worker who is injured on the job and becomes addicted to alcohol. The novel sold well, and along with it La Touche's illustrations, but his paintings received little attention. He needed a change of direction.