La Tour was born in Saint-Quentin in north-eastern France, the son of a musician. He went to college at Saint-Quentin, his father intending that his son should become an engineer. Instead, La Tour went to Paris where he studied with the Flemish artist Spoëde. La Tour worked in pastel and became renowned for his ability to catch a likeness and to suggest the character of the sitter. He was closely connected with the French court and drew many aristocratic and famous celebrities, including the king's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.