Another of the great masters of pastel painting in the eighteenth century, and a portraitist of renown, was the Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789). He is perhaps best-known for The Chocolate Girl, which today might be considered hyper-realist in its fine detail.
Liotard was born in Geneva, the son of a jeweller, and initially trained in painting enamels and miniatures. When he was twenty-three, he went to Paris, where he seems to have turned to full-scale portrait painting, which was to remain central to his art until his retirement. From France he went to Italy, continuing to paint successfully.
The Three Graces from 1737 is thought to be one of his earliest surviving pastel paintings, and demonstrates his mastery of the medium. He follows convention in placing one of the three figures with her back to the viewer.
In 1738, he accompanied Lord Duncannon to the city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul), where he lived and painted for four years.
Although A Lady in Turkish Costume with her Servant at the Hammam is undated, I suspect that it comes from this period in Turkey, or was derived from drawings made there. The hammam is more generally known as a Turkish Bath, and is a steam bath popular throughout the Muslim world. The distinctive shoes they are wearing are known as kabkabs, from the sound they make when walking on stone, and were standard for ladies when in the hammam. They were also used to protect the feet from dust and dirt when outdoors.
Liotard assumed Turkish dress and appearance, which he maintained much of the time after his return to western Europe. Following that, he travelled to paint portraits, such as those of the Imperial family in Vienna in 1742.
Applying his pastels to parchment rather than paper, he painted painstakingly detailed realist works like The Chocolate Girl (c 1744-45). This shows how the pastel medium was moving on from regular portraits, here to what is perhaps best termed genre.
Only when you see the patterned grain of the pastel on parchment does it become clear that this is not oil paint. I still marvel at the glass of water: surely a demonstration tour de force to make the viewer gasp in wonder.
His appearance at this time was quite eccentric, as revealed in this Self-portrait in Turkish Costume from about 1746, four years after his return to western Europe.
That same year, he painted this Portrait of Mme Boère (1746), or Catherine Bégon, the wife of a Genoese merchant who settled and died in Geneva. The detail below shows Liotard’s characteristic combination of painstaking detail in the patterned lace, and more painterly highlights in her blue skirt.
In 1753, Liotard visited Britain to paint members of its royal family.
Liotard had moved in the opposite direction to Carriera and other early pastellists: instead of emphasising mark-making, he concentrated on creating uniformly detailed, smooth, and light works, such as his Portrait of the artist’s wife, Marie Fargues (c 1718-1784), in Turkish dress (1756-58), a large work on parchment.
In 1757, he painted this portrait of François Tronchin, a prominent patron and collector in Geneva. The most prized work of art in his collection was Rembrandt’s Lady in Bed (c 1645-46), which Liotard has meticulously projected in perspective on the easel. On the table in front of him are a book, geometric instruments and music to show that Tronchin was a man of learning and culture.
Although the great majority of Liotard’s surviving pastel paintings are portraits, he increasingly used pastels to depict landscapes as he grew older. This Landscape with Cows, Sheep and Shepherdess from 1761 might appear strangely familiar, as it’s based on an original by Paulus Potter, borrows a little from Karel Dujardin, and adds Liotard’s own shepherdess.
Liotard returned to Vienna in 1762, when he painted the future Queen of France Marie-Antoinette at the age of seven, as a mere archduchess of Austria. Later, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was to paint her more than thirty times.
For much of this time, Liotard maintained a studio in his home city of Geneva, from where he painted this View of the Mont Blanc Massif from the Artist’s Studio between 1765-70. He slips in a small self-portrait as he admires this view, which was to become more familiar in the late views of Ferdinand Hodler, in the early twentieth century.
By 1776, Liotard was ready for retirement, and returned to settle down in Geneva.
According to his proud inscription at the foot of this Still Life, Liotard painted this in 1782, at the age of eighty, when he was still working wonders with his pastels.
Liotard died in Geneva in 1789, at the age of 86, and remains one of the great masters of painting in pastels.