Exhibition | Jean-Étienne Liotard: A Cosmopolitan Artist

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on November 14, 2015

Press release (12 November 2015) from the Getty:

Jean-Étienne Liotard: A Cosmopolitan Artist
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 20 October 2015 — 24 April 2016

Curated by Ketty Gottardo


Jean-Étienne Liotard, Portrait of Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone at Seven Years of Age, 1755–56, pastel on vellum, 54.9 x 44.8 cm (Los Angeles: Getty Museum)

Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789) excelled at the delicate art of pastel. His finest portraits display an astonishing realism achieved through intense observation and remarkable technical skill and feature royalty, aristocrats, and the bourgeoisie. Jean-Étienne Liotard: A Cosmopolitan Artist, comprised of pastels and drawings from the Getty Museum’s collection and two spectacular loans from a private collection, is now open and continues through April 24, 2016, at the Getty Center.

“For most of his very long career, Liotard worked as an itinerant portraitist,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The works of art in this room testify to the artist’s numerous travels and fame as well as to his astonishing facility in the medium of pastel.”

The remarkable success of pastel in the eighteenth century was due to the high demand for portraits from the nobility and bourgeoisie. The ease and swiftness with which pastel could be used allowed for much shorter sittings that pleased artists and sitters alike. Unlike oil painting, pastel does not need to dry, so drawings could be executed quickly, with changes and corrections easily made. The Portrait of Lord Mountstuart features a young English aristocrat whom Liotard encountered during a brief stay in Geneva in the midst of his Grand Tour to Italy; Mademoiselle Jacquet was a famous singer at the Paris Opera; Jean Tronchin was among Liotard’s cultivated Swiss patrons; and the magnificent Portrait of Baroness Maria Frederike, one of the Getty’s most-beloved treasures, is probably the most famous portrait he executed in Holland.

In his Treatise on Painting (1781), Liotard recommended the use of nine tones—four light, four dark, and one medium—to build up pastel images. Colors were blended with brushes, fingers, a stump, or even his own long beard. Liotard preferred to use vellum—made from calf skin—for his support, which imitated the texture of skin in portraits. “The delicate tone of skin seen in Liotard’s Portrait of Jean Tronchin (1759) is remarkable. Liotard used the texture of the vellum, along with a fine sfumato effect, to define his rich, fleshy, and aged face,” says Ketty Gottardo, associate curator of drawings and curator of the installation.

Liotard innovated a drawing technique that reinforced his compositions with large areas of tone applied to the verso (back), which would create glowing, translucent effects on the recto (front). After drawing the basic outlines of a composition, Liotard would turn over the sheet of paper and hold it against a window or source of light in order to trace it onto the verso with a thin stick of black chalk. Then he would fill in entire areas of the verso with watercolor, chalk, or pastel which served to enhance the colors on the front.

Additional information is available at Iris: The Online Magazine of the Getty.

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