A stunning exhibition celebrating one of the greatest artists of the eighteenth century. The work of Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-89) has been rarely exhibited and this is the first time it will be comprehensively celebrated in Britain.
Liotard enjoyed a long career and his finest portraits display an astonishing hyper-realism achieved through a combination of incredible, intense observation and remarkable technical skills. He excelled at the delicate art of pastel, but also drew, painted in oil, created enamels, and was a refined miniaturist and printmaker. His activity was prodigious: Liotard wrote a treatise on painting, was a collector, a dealer, a traveller and an artistic innovator. In the age of Mozart and Casanova, he was a key international figure whose achievement deserves to be better known.
Highlights of this important show include famous portraits, startling self-portraits, and brilliant experiments with genre and still-life subjects from the end of his career.
Image: Jean-Étienne Liotard, Princess Louisa Anne (1749-1768), 1754
Generously loaned by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection,
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
Jean Etienne Liotard (1702 -1789) was one of the most sophisticated, witty and innovative artists of eighteenth-century Europe. His work remains however largely unknown in Britain and this exhibition, the first to survey his achievement in this country, will reveal the full range of his remarkable achievement. An adventurous traveller and creator of brilliant, candid portraits, he excelled at the delicate art of pastel, but also drew, painted in oil, made enamels and was a refined miniaturist and printmaker.
‘Truth prevailed in all his works’.
Liotard’s court art was of a very particular type; in an age of magnificence, when portraiture was usually used to be public and propagandist, the artist offered an altogether more intimate and quiet service, creating small works of radical honesty, sometimes stripped of any of the trappings or attributes of state. They were highly valued by his clients and displayed in private spaces as well as being taken on journeys.
The artist described himself as a ‘Citizen of Geneva’ and depicted the bourgeoisie of his home city with honesty and grace, chiefly in the 1750s. In Britain his clientele included aristocrats, actors, Grand Tourists and men and women of fashion. In such commissions he combined compelling likenesses with an obsessive interest in details of clothes, recording with astonishing veracity details of fur, silk and lace.
Liotard travelled to Constantinople in 1738 with two British Grand Tourists, whom he had met in a coffee house in Rome. He stayed for about four years, securing commissions from the British Ambassador, Sir Everard Fawkener, and other residents in the city. He chiefly confined his studies to a langorous world of interiors, where figures recline on divans, and portraits of diplomats and merchants in oil and chalk, which meticulously pinpoint the intriguing and complex interaction between west and east through dress, furnishings and customs.
When Liotard arrived in Britain he was heralded as ‘The Turk’ as he had widely distributed engravings based on drawings made in Constantinople and adopted dramatic ethnic dress inspired by his experience of the city, consisting of red gown, striking hat and long beard. His fascination with Constantinople and promotion of it through his costume was a form of Turquerie – a distinctive strand of orientalism which distilled Europeans’ fascination with the Ottoman Empire and took many forms, influencing fashion and the fine and decorative arts.
Throughout his life Liotard depicted his own features in a wide range of media, employing oil paint, enamel and various print making techniques. The results are some of the most candid and intriguing self-portraits of the eighteenth century. They document his ageing, but also allowed him to develop and refine the exotic, eastern image he promoted, especially through flamboyant dress, following his visit to Constantinople.
Liotard made portraits of family members which provide a delightfully intimate insight into his immediate circle. He married Marie Fargues, the daughter of a French merchant, in 1756, and depicted her and their five children on numerous occasions, particularly creating remarkably accomplished pastel studies.
Towards the latter part of his long career Liotard began to explore new subject matter – still life and genre (or everyday) subjects. In such works he excelled at replicating in astonishing detail the appearance of the objects before him. In such works he took inspiration from French and Dutch art, but also achieved a wholly original synthesis. He also enjoyed success as an art dealer and sought to create a legacy through writing a treatise on art.
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