Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Liotard's Ladies

Jean-Étienne Liotard "Portrait of Archduchess Maria-Christina of Austria" 1762  Black chalk, red chalk, graphite pencil and watercolor glazes  Museum of Art and History, Geneva 
This charming informal portrait depicts the twenty-year-old Archduchess Maria-Christina of Austria (1742-1798) who was known as Mimi to her friends and family. She was the fifth child and fourth daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa, and was reputed to be a talented and enthusiastic amateur artist. We see her here painting in watercolors, while being painted herself. 

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789) was born in Switzerland, where he first trained as a miniaturist. Perhaps through the early effort of working on a very small scale he mastered an extraordinary fineness of application that later became the hallmark of his pastel style. Always primarily interested in the human face and figure he moved to Paris, where he studied with prominent portrait painters Jean Baptiste Massé and François Lemoyne.

Despite his skill and industry he was rejected by the Académie Royale. Disappointed, he left France for Italy where he obtained numerous portrait commissions including the patronage of Pope Clement XII and various Cardinals. Liotard, who apparently was an adventurous soul, then embarked on a journey throughout the Mediterranean region, eventually settling in Constantinople for four years. Fascinated by the native dress and customs of his temporary home he grew a long beard and began dressing as a Turk, earning himself the nickname of "the Turkish painter." While in Constantinople, he painted portraits of members of the British colony living there as well as drawing and painting his Turkish neighbors and servants. 

For the remainder of his life, Liotard traveled throughout Europe drawing and painting portraits, usually in pastels, among the highest echelons of the European aristocracy. He gained an international reputation for his skill in achieving an almost uncannily accurate likeness of his sitters. While he is mainly known as one of the greatest pastel artists of all time he also worked with a high degree of skill in other mediums including enamels, copper engraving, glass painting and watercolor.  At the age of seventy-nine, he published a treatise on the principles of painting, in which he explained his belief that painting is and should be a mirror of nature. 

Jean-Étienne Liotard "Caroline Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt" 1745 medium and location unknown

Caroline Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt (1723-1783), also known as Karoline Luise von Baden, was one of the most learned and influential women of her generation. She was a talented amateur musician, scientist and artist and a discerning art collector whose extensive collections became the foundation of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe and the Karlsruhe Museum of Natural Science. She spoke five languages and corresponded with most of the great intellectuals of her day. Despite her position as a member of the nobility she successfully and profitably managed a soap and candle factory which substantially augmented her income (and probably supported her collecting habit!)  She was about seventeen years old when she posed for this portrait by Liotard, and her lively inquiring intellect is evident in the bright glance she directs out at the artist as she herself sits working at her easel.It's fun to think that she might be painting Liotard's portrait while he painted hers!