Jean Étienne LIOTARD (Genève 1702 – 1789)

Portrait of an Aristocrat from the Court of Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche

69 x 56 cm. (27 316 in. x 22 in.)
c. 1744. Pastel on parchment.

• Anonymous Sale, Lucerne, Fischer, November 1954, lot 1981 (with its pendant, identified as of Kaunitz and his wife).
• Sale, Lucerne, Fischer, 22 May 1992, lot 2446 (with its pendant, same identification), ill., sold together for 12 000 Swiss Francs.
• Sale, London, Sotheby’s, 8 July 2004, lot 123 (without pendant).
• France, Private Collection.

Related Works
Our portrait has a pendant, Portrait of a Woman, 69 x 56 cm.: Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 21 January 2004, lot 103; Giancarlo Baroni; Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 29-30 January 2013, lot 23; Sale, Paris, Christie’s, 25 March 2015, lot 139). See Roethlisberger and Loche, 2008, I, pp. 333-334, no 132, fig. 218.

Son of Antoine Liotard, a merchant of Montélimar who went into exile in Geneva with his family after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the future pastellist was first trained by the Genevan miniature painter Daniel Gardelle and then by Jean-Baptiste Massé in Paris. The young artist failed to win the Prix de Rome, but made a reputation as an excellent portraitist and miniaturist. Appointed ambassador to Naples in October 1735, Louis Brûlart de Sillery, Marquis de Puysieux, sought a painter to accompany him on the voyage to Italy, and François Lemoyne recommended Liotard. The artist thus was able to undertake an artistic Grand Tour which took him to Rome, where he painted Pope Clement XII and several cardinals, and then to Florence, Naples, Malta, the Greek Isles, and Constantinople.

After four years by the Bosphorus, Liotard accepted the Prince of Moldavia’s invitation and spent ten months in Iasi before going to Hungary in 1743 and Vienna where he remained for a year and a half. Nicknamed “the Turkish painter” on account of his beard and turban, Liotard was immediately successful at the Imperial court. Enthralled with his Ottoman drawings and undeniable talent as a portraitist, Maria-Theresa of Austria and Francis of Lorraine were the first to pose for the artist and grant him their full protection.

During this sojourn in Vienna, Liotard produced his most famous pastel, The Chocolate Girl (Dresden), and his Self-Portrait in Turkish Costume for the Uffizi, along with several portraits of members of both the Imperial aristocracy and of the Hapsburg family. With surprising audacity in a royal milieu which was totally new to him characterized by its own particular pomp, he imposed an original vision of official portraiture profoundly inspired by court style, even while giving a more immediate natural image to sovereigns and their entourage. Liotard’s success in Vienna assured him European fame and a career as a cosmopolitan court portraitist who was solicited as much in Bayreuth, Darmstadt, and Vienna, as in London or Paris. He was exceptional in the extent of his travels and excelled in diverse formats and techniques, namely pastels, oil paintings, and miniatures.

In Vienna, according to the autobiography adapted by his oldest son, Liotard first painted Maria-Theresa and Francis of Lorraine, whose titles at the time were Queen of Hungary and Grand Duke of Tuscany respectively. He then portrayed the “Empress Mother [Elizabeth-Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel], Prince Charles of Lorraine, the Grand Duke’s brother, the Empress’ sister [Marie-Anne of Austria, sister of Maria-Theresa, wife of Charles], Duchess Charlotte [Anne-Charlotte, sister of Francis of Lorraine] and the oldest Archduchess (Marie-Anne of Austria, daughter of Maria-Theresa, future abbess].” The painter’s main activity consisted of producing numerous replicas of these portraits: he remembered having thus received no less than thirty commissions in the same day.

The members of the Imperial couple’s close circles also certainly solicited the artist for portraits of themselves, yet only two pastels of aristocrats can be associated with Liotard’s first stay in Vienna, notably our work and its pendant.

About ten years ago, these two pictures appeared on the market and were subsequently separated. They depict a couple of very high rank. Slightly turned towards each other, these half-length portraits share a similar emphasis on the bust, as well as a simplicity in the mauve costumes trimmed with martin fur, and coloring built on harmonies of browns and pinks which are only interrupted by the grey and whites of the shirts and powdered wigs, not to mention the golden yellow hues of the galloons which embellish the gentleman’s indoor attire. He himself appears to have more lustre, a more dynamic pose, livelier gaze, and a slight smile. With a very graceful gesture, he holds the edge of his fur-lined robe.

The couple’s name remains to be discovered, as the traditional identification as the Count and Countess of Kaunitz-Rietberg, Wenzel Anton and Maria Ernestine von Staremberg, is refuted through comparison with sure depictions of them. Kaunitz thus had a blue gaze, whereas the sitter in our pastel has brown eyes. However our proud character, who is perfectly conscious of his own importance, must certainly descend from a lineage as ancient as that of the Kaunitz. He probably occupied a situation at court comparable to that of the Count who was Plenipotentiary Minister in Turin and then Brussels. Our sitter’s high position is confirmed by the existence of a miniature by Liotard of the wife, the lady in the pendant, clothed “in Turkish style,” in a buttoned pink flowered dress and white caftan trimmed with fur. This costume, in fact, recalls one painted by Liotard of Marie-Theresa herself in Turkish costume with a mask which is known through copies. Perhaps commemorating some court entertainment, this portrait of the Empress completed her depictions in court costume and coronation attire. Our pastel and its pendant offer the most similarities, as much in the presentation as in technique, to the first of these images: realized by Liotard as soon as he arrived in Vienna at the end of 1743, it shows the sovereign in a straw-yellow dress and without a crown.

Very personal, lively, and incisive, the portrait of Maria-Theresa displays a surprising freedom of touch in the clothing and background which is in sharp contrast to the more precise handling of the face. The same disparity in modeling can be seen in the pastel which we present here and in its pendant. On vellum carefully whitened and rubbed down, the artist traces the preliminary contours in stylet, then goes over everything with dark stumped chalk. The head and hand are then worked very delicately through overlapping short vibrant hatching loaded with warm and cold hues. As in the pastel of the Empress, Liotard insists on light reflections in the iris and corner of the lips. He emphasizes the bridge of the nose with a pinkish blurred shadow. He is as meticulous in rendering the curls of the wig, the vaporous lace of the tie and cuffs, and the silkiness of the fur. In contrast, the execution of the habit is vigorous and rapid, almost sketched, as it plays with the ivory color of the parchment left in reserve, without detracting from the shimmering fabric. Finally, the brown, neutral, and irregular brown background seems to be enlivened by an interior light.

This diversity in finishing between elements that make up the portrait and draperies that appear unfinished, even though it is a perfectly finished work, constitutes one of the particularities of the first Viennese pastels by Liotard. It is in contrast to the more uniform finish of subsequent works by the artist. Here, the Genevan painter displays brilliant rendering, as well as a fine original spirit anticipating both the taste for sketches which would blossom in the late 18th century and the experiences of portraitists in the following century.

We would like to thank Mr. Marcel Roethlisberger for having confirmed the authenticity of our pastel.

Related Literature
Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, London, Unicorn Press, 2006, p. 345.
Marcel ROETHLISBERGER and Renée LOCHE, Liotard, Doornspijk, Davaco Publishers, 2008, vol. I, pp. 333-334, cat. 132, repr. vol. II, fig. 218.
Neil JEFFARES, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, on-line version, updated December 31st, 2018: http ://, p. 10, no J.49.1733.

General Literature
Anne de Herdt, Dessins de Liotard, suivi du catalogue de l’œuvre dessiné, exh. cat. Geneva, Museum of Art and History ; Paris, Louvre Museum, RMN, 1992.
Renée LOCHE and Marcel ROETHLISBERGER, L’Opera completa di Liotard, Milan, Rizzoli, 1978.
Claire STOULLIG, Isabelle Félicité BLEEKER et al. Jean-Étienne Liotard 1702-1789 dans les Collections des Musées d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève, exh. cat. Geneva, Museum of Art and History, Somogy, 2002.

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