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25 May 2015

Liotard Mlle Lavergne Rijksmuseum LR91 copyHere are miscellaneous trivia about Liotard that I’ve come across in the last few weeks. Some points are clarifications of matters that are discussed in the wonderful Roethlisberger & Loche catalogue raisonné (of which I can only say that my admiration increases every time I consult it – a comment I couldn’t really include in my Burlington Magazine review which was published immediately after it appeared); others are even more insignificant trouvailles of interest only to specialists (probably a little drier than the document perused by Liotard’s Liseuse). But here they are, in vaguely chronological order. You’ll need a copy of R&L to follow this post: if you don’t have one, get one (whatever the expense).

Maria Theresia as Minerva

Among the most significant commissions for Liotard were the portraits of the Austrian imperial family which he made in Vienna c.1744, and in particular those of Maria Theresia herself. Despite several models and dozens of repetitions (and innumerable copies, authorised or not), almost all show her in three-quarters, and none in profile. So this passage in the Journal helvétique (février 1745):

Dassier JH

raises an interesting question as to what source Dassier used for his medal: Dassier ar Liotard Maria Theresia 1744 obv

(Perhaps some numismatist can explain why she points in the other direction on her coinage.) One recent authority has assumed that Dassier transformed one of Liotard’s known imperial portraits into a profile, while R&L are sceptical, assuming rather that there must be a lost Liotard profile. Curiously however their discussion appears on p. 604 in the context of the much later trompe-l’œil of Maria Thersia (R&L 473, fig. 673) rather than under a new number for the missing 1744 pastel (for pastel it surely was). And when they revert to the only evidence of what that profile looked like, p. 652, it is to discuss Liotard’s own engraving of his drawing (R&L 527) without tying these together. Liotard made this engraving for his Traité of 1778, and must have kept the original until then, although it is inexplicably absent from the inventories.

Liotard Profil Maria Theresia

Another slightly curious twist to this is the Martin Tyroff engraving (R&L fig. 163), which seems to combine elements from the reverse of the Dassier medal:

Untitled-4 copyDassier ar Liotard Maria Theresia 1744 rev

The comte de Bonneval

Claude-Alexandre, comte de Bonneval (1675–1747), known as Ahmet Pacha from his adoption of Turkish clothing, was a natural subject for Liotard to paint, and it is unsurprising that his pastel, signed and dated “Acmet Pacha/Conte de Bonneval/peint à Constantinople/par J. E. Liotard 1741”, is to be found in Belvoir Castle. R&L conflate this with the version acquired by Liotard’s great patron Sir Everard Fawkener and which passed, after his death, into Walpole’s collection, where you can see it in a watercolour of the gallery at Strawberry Hill made c.1781 by Thomas and Paul Sandby and Edward Edwards.

Sandby Starwberry Hill detIt vanished a few years after the Strawberry Hill sale of 1842. But the Duke of Rutland’s version was recorded at Belvoir in 1792, and  so must be a second version. A third has now come to light, somewhat smaller than Rutland’s, and noted somewhat later than Walpole’s: it was in the posthumous sale of Clemens August von Bayern (1700–1761) held in Bonn in 1764. It was accompanied by a pendant which is altogether unknown.

Clemens August 1764

Liotard et L’Inconnue

Who can tell what really happened in the tale of a young woman known as L’Inconnue (or in England, the Maid of the Hay-stack) who may or may not have been the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Franz Stefan? The story is far too complicated for me to summarise here: suffice it to say that she ended her days in a lunatic asylum, her fees paid by the celebrated philanthropist Hannah More. But a Liotard miniature of her alleged father, recognised by Prince Charles de Lorraine, played its part in the story, and may have been real enough:


Serre and Fontenelle

While we know that Liotard produced a (lost) colour print of Fontenelle in 1734, the Winterthur miniature (R&L 21) (watercolour and gouache rather than enamel) seems to show a face far older than the La Tour portrait of Fontenelle known from the Dupin engraving as that – assuming it was correctly attributed – can’t be much earlier than 1734 itself. So I’ve always assumed it was later – more or less the same date as the enamel Serre made in 1752 (R&L fig. 30). But while R&L (p. 247) assume that Serre copied Liotard, a note in a letter from Fontenelle to Vernet of 16.VII.1750 reveals that Serre had just painted the author from life in Paris.


At the very least it makes one wonder if the 1752 enamel wasn’t a repetition of Serre’s own work – and that R&L 21 was actually made by Liotard after Serre?

Liotard, “peintre du roi”

Liotard’s first documented use of the title “peintre du roi”, a year before the Académie de Saint-Luc exhibitions, appears to be on 29.I.1750, when he was witness to the marriage contract of one Nicolas-Sylvain Petitjean, sieur d’Arzillières, and Marie Robert Mamielle (AN MC XXVIII/315). Of course he had already portrayed the king, but that isn’t the significance of the title (e.g., as Dominique d’Arnoult points out, “Perronneau, peintre du roi, n’a pas peint le roi”), which was probably conferred by brevet. Very little is known about this M. Petitjean, except that he was an ancien directeur des Aides: the family included both soldiers and receveurs des tailles, and were on the borderline of nobility.

Liotard, Rousseau and Burney

The pastel which Liotard made of Rousseau in Lyon in 1770 must have been made before Rousseau left the town on 8.VI.1770 (as R&L deduce, pp. 591–93). But what has not so far been noticed is that Liotard must have continued on to Paris, where, on 22.VI.1770, Charles Burney records having dinner with him, Grétry and the abbé Arnaud. Unfortunately it seems to have been Grétry rather than Liotard that interested Burney. But the musicologist was a Rousseau fanatic: he later adapted Rousseau’s music; his nephew and son-in-law was named Charles Rousseau Burney in honour of both musicians; and Burney’s meeting with Rousseau, on his return from Italy, in a house belonging to an unnamed pastellist – perhaps Bréa? – in the rue de Grenelle, 13.XII.1770, was the high point of his Grand Tour. So it is extremely odd that he says nothing about Liotard’s portrait. If Liotard had mentioned the portrait at the dinner, why wouldn’t Burney have remarked upon what for him would have been a most exciting encounter? Did Liotard keep quite about it, embarrassed perhaps at how short and unsatisfactory the encounter had been? It has to be conceded that the portrait that survives is a rather disappointing affair.

Liotard Rousseau LR275

Rousseau didn’t take to it, maintaining that only La Tour had got him right. In fact I’ve always felt that it was Ramsay who produced the most accurate portrait of Rousseau, but you can see why the psychopathological eyes would only increase Rousseau’s paranoid alarm as they followed him round the room.Ironically it was in a costume similar to that Ramsay used, that Liotard had to make a portrait of one of his English clients that year – “beautifully done in Crayons, Wm. Constable, in the dress of Rousseau” as it was later described. Technically it may not have been Armenian but there seems to have been little doubt in the Constable family’s mind as to the iconographical significance of the outfit.

Liotard W Constable LR279

All rather intriguing and as yet inconclusive – perhaps the imaginative possibilities are more suited to a work of creative fiction.

Liotard, Rousseau and Wilkes

The earlier attempt to set up a meeting between Liotard and Rousseau (also explained in R&L), and involving John Wilkes – the prospect of the three of them getting together scared off Rousseau – is also intriguing. An unidentified “jeune pastelliste”, apparently an unrecorded pupil of Liotard, was involved in attempts to have a pastel portrait made of Rousseau in 1764 but withdrew when his father died (this pastellist cannot have been Louis-Ami Arlaud, whose father lived until 1806 and who was only 12½ when it was suggested that he visit Rousseau, “les pastels à la main”, to paint the great man): Liotard’s offer to step into his pupil’s shoes was deferred by Rousseau, possibly because John Wilkes was to come with him. This unidentified pastellist cannot be Charles-Ange Boily, sent by Rey to take Rousseau’s portrait in pastel at exactly the same time, and encountered by James Boswell on the way: Boily was a pupil of Lempereur, not Liotard. This leaves us with an as yet unidentified second pupil of Liotard. By another extraordinary coincidence, at the very time that Burney, Liotard and Grétry would have their dinner in Paris (in June 1770), Wilkes’s daughter Polly was there, as we know from his letter to her recommending that “you avail yourself as much as you can of your being at Paris to take lessons from” another mystery pastellist, a M. Cezeron.

François-Eugène, not Charles, Burney

As I was researching this I found this rather surprising page on the Geneva mAH website, suggesting that Charles Burney engraved Liotard’s most popular work. A simple error which you can easily resolve by turning to R&L, p. 713. Or you can pursue the reference on the mAH site: Tilanus, p. 194, no. 75, which in turn mentions Chennevières’s 1888 article in L’Art, p. 228, from which it is clear that we are talking of François-Eugène Burney (1845–1907), not Dr Charles Burney.

La Liseuse

After the artist’s death his pictures were divided among his heirs, resulting in much negotiation between them. R&L include several letters by Jacques Guigonnat, husband of Liotard’s great-niece Sara (see also under R&L 159, p. 363). But it doesn’t seem to have been noted that Guigonnat lent La Liseuse, one of Liotard’s most famous pastels now in the Rijksmuseum (shown above), to the second exhibition of the Société des arts in Geneva, in May 1792, no. 23: “La liseuse, par M. Liotard; à M. Guigonnat”.

Geneva 1792


You never know when you post a blog whether it will be read or be of interest, and so feedback is always a pleasure. But none more so than when a collector responds by generously sharing a rare and precious document that, as far as I am aware, has never been published. We know that Liotard’s Chocolatière, his most famous work now in Dresden (and engraved by the other Burney among many others), was bought by Algarotti in February 1745: the entry in his accounts is in R&L (along with an extremely thorough analysis, summarising an article published by Marcel Roethlisberger in Genava in 2002). But Liotard’s autograph receipt is new (private collection ℅ Lowell Libson Ltd):

Untitled-1 copy

[Note: a few further additions since the original post are integrated above]


From → Art history

  1. permalink

    Very good research is in the catalogue (in german) of the exhibition ‘Die Meister -Sammlerin Karoline Luise von Baden’ now in the Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. Some essays about Liotard and his’ pupil’ Karoline Luise, and entries of Liotard pastels exhibited (the two ones of the Margravine, the Uffizi self portrait, the Emperors from Weimar, and others…) Just available on amazon, from Deutscher Kunstverlag. Alas, no editions in other languages… (I asked to the editor).

    Gabriele Dini, a pastels lover.

    Urbino IT

  2. It is indeed a magnificent achievement, and I am working through my copy of the catalogue at the moment. I’m going to see the exhibition in a few weeks’ time

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Liotard’s early years in Paris | Neil Jeffares
  2. Errata for the Liotard exhibition catalogue | Neil Jeffares
  3. Liotard’s houses in London | Neil Jeffares
  4. Mlle Thomasset: Liotard’s copyist in needlework | Neil Jeffares
  5. Marcel Roethlisberger (1929–2020) | Neil Jeffares

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