The Frick Collection
The West Gallery of The Frick Collection
Special Exhibition: Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789): Swiss Master

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789): Swiss Master
June 13 through September 17, 2006

Empress Maria Theresa’s Children

In 1762 Liotard returned to Vienna for the second time. While there, Empress Maria Theresa commissioned the artist to execute portraits of eleven of her twelve living children. (Only the future emperor, Joseph II [1741–1790], is not represented.) Unlike most portraits of royalty in this period, Liotard’s likenesses of the imperial children are remarkable for their truth to appearances and their lack of flattery. The empress was clearly pleased with the veracity of Liotard’s art. On his final trip to Vienna in 1777, Liotard reported that the empress herself “told me that she took the portraits I had made of her family with her on all of her voyages.” Liotard’s portraits of the imperial children are also a masterful example of his unusual practice of heightening the reverse side of his portrait drawings with color. On the verso of his portrait of Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, for instance, Liotard reinforced all areas of his drawing, including the contours of his sitter’s face and hands, with darker, more intense colors than are seen on the recto. Liotard adapted this technique from the practice of miniature painting; applied to drawings, as here, its effect is to heighten the relief of the figure, and thus enhance its compelling realism.


Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria
(1743–1808), 1762
Black and red chalk, graphite pencil, watercolor, and watercolor glaze on thin paper, heightened with color on the verso

Unless otherwise noted, all works are from the Musées d’art et d’histoire, Geneva.

Presentation of the exhibition is made possible, in part, through the generous support of Margot and Jerry Bogert; Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Jean A. Bonna and Inez and Yves Oltramare, with additional support from Inez and Yves Oltramare; Jean A. Bonna; Pro Helvetia, Arts Council of Switzerland; The Helen Clay Frick Foundation; and the Fellows of The Frick Collection. Transportation costs have been generously underwritten by Swiss International Air Lines. The catalogue is made possible, in part, by Lawrence and Julie Salander.