Liotardiana (2): Dispute pour des marrons
A group of genre pictures in pastel which come from the Habsburg collections in Vienna have caused considerable difficulties. They include half a dozen works with single figure works, as well as three pastel conversation pieces showing children at play. They were with Erzherzog Maximilian in the Castello di Miramare between 1860 and 1919 (as by Liotard), and are now in the Schönbrunn. Roethlisberger & Loche (R92, p. 693f; nine are reproduced in the 1978 edition) assign them to a single (unidentified) hand, and until now I grouped them together under the name of “the Schönbrunn pastellist”.
R&L thought that one of the pictures, a group of children playing with chess pieces (left), probably corresponded with the pastel described as children playing with chestnuts inventoried as by Liotard in the private apartments of Maria Theresia in 1772, no. 780: “eine Junge Manns-Person mit 3 Mägden, so mit Kastanien spielen vom Liodard.”
In fact there is a further pastel in the Miniaturkabinett that fits this description perfectly (see above, from this website, where the pastel is attributed to Kaiser Franz I. Stephan and his children). The chestnuts are indeed chestnuts, not chess pieces. The costumes are a little earlier, and the technique corresponds far more closely to that of Liotard, although the subject matter is extremely unusual in his œuvre. I propose to identify this as Liotard’s lost portrait exhibited in the Salon de Saint-Luc in 1752:
The remaining pastels, evidently by a different hand (and correctly rejected by R&L), apparently Austrian and described as the “Schönbrunn pastellist” in the online Dictionary until 2015, show the influence of Liotard, particularly in the three conversation pieces R&L knew. The suggestion that they are all (including the Liotard) by the Emperor is rather implausible: although members of the imperial family (including Marie-Antoinette, later to become queen of France) were amateur pastellists, these works are well beyond their skills.
I can now attribute this group of pastels (other than the Liotard) to Gabrielle Bertrand-Beyer, daughter of the concierge of the Schloß Schönbrunn and drawings teacher to the imperial princesses. She has hitherto been known only from a handful of works which nevertheless show certain similarities, for example in the colouring and folds in the drapery. The attribution is confirmed by the description by Fortia de Piles of his trip in 1790–92 when he saw in the second room of the Aile droite of the Petit Belvédère, among 52 pictures,
Quatre portraits au pastel, dont un Tirolien et une Tirolienne, par madame Beyer, fort bons. Enfans qui soufflent des boules de savon, en pastel, par la même, très-joli.
The first two of these evidently correspond to two pastels in von Mechel’s catalogue “peints d’après nature [qui] se distinguent sur-tout parmi plusieurs autres de cette habile main [de Mme Beyer], qui se trouvent dans ce Cabinet”; two pastels in the group fit well. Here is the third: