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

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

  Prince Henry Benedict Stuart (1725–1807) and Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1720–1788)
Watercolor and gouache on ivory
Private collection

Dating from Liotard’s sojourn in Italy (1736–38), this miniature represents the grandsons of James II, the Stuart king who lost the British crown to William and Mary in 1688. Living in exile in Rome during the 1730s, the Stuart family commissioned several portraits of themselves from Liotard for distribution to their supporters. Henry Benedict, on the left, became a cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, while the elder Charles Edward Stuart, known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” spent his life fighting unsuccessfully to restore his family to the British throne.

  Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria
Red and black chalk, graphite pencil, and watercolor on thin paper, heightened with color on the verso

Archduchess Maria Amalia, shown here at her embroidery, resisted her mother’s arrangements for a politically advantageous marriage. The empress prevailed and in 1769 Maria Amalia was married to Ferdinand of Bourbon, Duke of Parma (1751–1802). Very active in the political affairs of her new home, she left Parma after her husband’s death in 1802 and died in Prague in 1804.

  Archduke Maximilian Franz of Austria

Black and red chalk, graphite pencil, pastel, and watercolor
glaze on thin paper, heightened with color on the verso

Maximilian Franz, the imperial couple’s youngest child, became elector of Cologne and prince-bishop of Münster. A lover of music, he was an early patron of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

  Archduchess Maria Karolina of Austria

Red and black chalk, stumping, watercolor, and pastel on thin paper, heightened with color on the verso

The thirteenth daughter of Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen I of Lorraine, in 1768 Maria Karolina was married (in place of her recently deceased sister, Maria Josepha), to Ferdinand IV, king of Naples and Sicily. After decades of sometimes tumultuous rule, Maria Karolina died in 1814. Her portrait by Liotard is a remarkable example of the artist’s use of color on the reverse side of his drawings. Seen through the nearly translucent paper, the intense yellows, pinks, and flesh tones on the verso heighten the delicate tones of the recto.

  Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria

Red and black chalk, graphite pencil, watercolor, and pastel on thin paper, heightened with color on the verso

In 1770 Marie Antoinette, the imperial couple’s youngest daughter, married the heir to the French throne, the future Louis XVI. After she became queen in 1774, Marie Antoinette became increasingly unpopular, serving as a symbol of all that was wrong with the Ancien Régime. Aversion for her deepened further after the Revolution of 1789. In 1792 the monarchy was abolished, and she and her family were imprisoned. Louis was beheaded in January 1793; Marie Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.

  Madame Jean-Étienne Liotard (1728–1782), with Her Eldest Son, Jean-Étienne
c. 1762
Black and red chalk and watercolor on cream paper,
heightened with color on the verso

Long considered to be a portrait of his wife and daughter, Liotard’s drawing depicts instead his spouse, Marie Fargues, and their son and first child, Jean-Étienne. The younger Jean-Étienne is clothed in the dress and bonnet worn by little boys until age six or seven; the subtle tones of his face and clothing, like that of his mother’s, are achieved by Liotard’s characteristic application of broad areas of color on the verso.

  Jean-Étienne Liotard, Eldest Son of the Artist, Buttering a Piece of Bread
c. 1769–70
Red, black, and white chalk on blue paper
Private collection

Some of the outlines of this drawing are indented, and the verso is rubbed with red chalk, indicating that Liotard used this sheet to transfer his composition to the canvas before painting his picture.

  Liotard Laughing
c. 1770
Oil on canvas

Liotard was noted for his unsparing treatment of his sitters, including himself. But his gap-toothed smile may reflect more than scrupulous realism. The wide grin and pointing finger are traditional attributes of the Greek philosopher Democritus, nicknamed the laughing philosopher for his mockery of human folly, while the prominent green drapery may refer to the story of the ancient Greek painter Parrhasius, whose painted curtain was so expertly imitated that it fooled even his fellow artist Zeuxis. Liotard-Democritus invites us to laugh along with him while at the same time aspiring to trick us with the accomplished illusionism of his portrait.

  Trompe l’Oeil
Oil on silk transferred to canvas
The Frick Collection, bequeathed by Lore Heinemann in memory of her husband, Dr. Rudolph J. Heinemann, 1997

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When Liotard exhibited this painting in London in 1773, he described it as a “deceptio visus” (visual deception). With its illusionistic plaster reliefs suspended from screws and drawings adhered with sealing wax to a simulated pine panel, Trompe l’Oeil is both a delightful piece of visual trickery and a masterful demonstration of the artist’s belief that the goal of art was perfect mimesis, an imitation of the natural world so exact that it could deceive even experienced viewers.

  Frederika Luise Wilhelmina of Orange-Nassau at the Age of Two (1770–1819)
Black, red, and white chalk with stumping on blue paper,
heightened in black on the verso

During Liotard’s second sojourn in the Netherlands from 1771 to 1773 (his first was in 1755 to 1756), William V, Prince of Orange, commissioned a portrait of his daughter Frederika. This drawing is preparatory for a pastel of the young princess(formerly in the Hohenzollern Museum, Berlin) and is a good example of Liotard’s technique. Details of the child’s face are incised; this feature and the expanse of black on the verso of the sheet suggest he used this drawing to transfer the little girl’s likeness onto the parchment support of the pastel so that the resulting lines would guide his work on her portrait.

  James Hamilton, Second Earl of Clanbrassill
Pastel on paper
Private Collection

This pastel portrait and its pendant of the Countess of Clanbrassill date from Liotard’s last visit to London (1773–74). Executed in 1774, they were commissioned from the artist to commemorate the couple’s marriage on May 21 of that year. Clanbrassill, owner of two Irish estates, holder of a seat in the House of Commons in London from 1768 to 1774, and a member of the Society of Dilettanti, visited the English capital sporadically. He appears to have met Liotard in 1773 and to have been particularly engaged by the Genevan’s art. The earl may also have owned The Frick Collection’s Trompe l’Oeil (1771).

  Self-Portrait known as “with a New Beard”
Graphite pencil and black chalk, with stumping, heightened
with white chalk on faded blue paper

This study is preparatory for Liotard’s last self-portrait (now lost). Drawing with the same directness and assurance as he did in his earlier preparatory sketches, the eighty-year-old artist depicts himself in his Turkish robes and with a new beard (presumably grown in again after the death of his wife in 1782).

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.