food in the arts



The Chocolate-Girl
c. 1743-45
82.5 x 52.5 cm
Gemaeldegallerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard traveled a great deal from his birthplace at Geneva. Twice he visited the Netherlands: between 1755-1757 and 1771-1773. He produced forty portraits and several of them bear a relationship with the subject of eating and drinking.


Liotard’s first great journey brought him in 1738 to Constantinople. When he returned to Western Europe he sported a long beard and a fez. He called himself ‘le peintre turc’ and, as the talent and reputation of this traveling pastellist grew, so he capitalised on the fascination of eighteenth century European society for the East. Liotard was a child of the time of exoticism: Mozart’s opera ‘Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serial’ and his ‘Alla Turca’, a treatise called ‘Moeurs et Usages des Turcs’, of prints such as ‘Lady Mary as a Turk’ (B.M.), of the opening of the Leipzig coffee house (three cups of the rich Turkish brew was the recommended dose), and all this while the interest in Chinese culture continued to increase.


Liotard was a huge success as a portrait painter in Vienna, Paris and London, where Walpole called him ‘greedy beyond all imagination’ and reproached him for ‘too much finishing and retouching in his art.’ A coffee travel service for two people given him by Kaiserin Maria Theresa of Austria is testament of his bearing in high society. Having encountered Montesquieu, Voltaire and the Marquis de Puisieux – the French Ambassador to Naples, he went to Italy and made portraits of James Stuart and several cardinals. This all happened before Lord Bessborough took him to Constantinople where he stayed for five years painting delightfully all the city’s inhabitants, Armenian, Jew, or Greek, in a manner deeply sensitive to the seething diversity of the place. A drawing of houses near Constantinople of 1740, made in the same black and red crayon he used for his preliminary sketches of heads, is a rare example of a Liotard landscape, which contains the topographical precision of Ruskin amidst the softness of Turner. The information given about the buildings is draughtsmanship succeeding at its first attempt. The foreground, a series of conscious diagonal marks, is impressionistic.


He wrote ‘Treatise of Principles and Rules for Painting’ between 1774-9, after his second trip to the Netherlands Published in Geneva in 1781, it brought his work into a fusion with the realism of the seventeenth century Dutch painters. Portraits were mostly done in oil paint on panel or on canvas. Liotard made use of pastel colours on paper or parchment. The pastels were produced from a mixtuxe of dried paste (hence pastel), water and gum solution compounded with colour pigment. The advantage of pastel crayon is that one can work fast and form many nuances of colour. Due to the fact that the pastel technique was virtually unknown in the Netherlands, Liotard was able to score much success. He also mastered the process of the miniature portrait – using water-colour paint on a small oval ivory. Although it can be argued that Liotard’s pastels were themselves miniatures blown up to a larger size, they are realistic, sharply handled portraits against a blank background.


The wooden stretcher, the pins and the stretched parchment can be seen under a larger frame in a portrait of Maria Theresa. The maximum format for his conventional pastel portraits under glass was 60 x 50cm and the edges of the works, as in oil paintings, went under the frame itself. The picture of Maria d’Arcey (1745), wife of the English Ambassador in Venice, is the first of many by Liotard to indulge in the magnificent and fashionable royal blue in her costume. His tonal range, closer than one might think from seeing reproductions of the work, might be ascribed to the unconscious opening out of his personality from the mentality of a miniaturist. The style was safe, set and allowed for the celebration of pinpoints of light in the eyes or an enhancing shadow upon the cheek. Form was assumed and not created. In order to produce the attitude of the subject, physiognomy was irrelevant.


In works like ‘Johanna Fagel’ (whose father Hendrik Fagel, was griffier of the Stategeneral of northern Netherlands), Liotard followed the latest Parisian style in both clothing and painting, using a deliberately worked cross-hatching and finger-smudging technique. The resultant image appears almost two-dimensional against a dark and light background. This curiously archaic quality is more apparent in two small oil portraits done in the Hague of children of the royal Oranje-Nassau family. Whilst being a competent and proven technician in the oil medium , these small paintings might be of a rustic type of farmer’s children by a provincial artist. The handwritten bill, flamboyantly covering two foolscap sheets, for the portraits of’ the royal children, painted in the months of April, May and June 1756, came to f.16,134.19 (Dutch Guilders) and f.35,383.14 respectively. Allowing for the inflationary spiral over two hundred years it is evident that his works fetched unheard-of prices.


Another small red and black crayon sketch shows Marie Liotard-Farges, his wife, with their eldest daughter, Marie-Jeanne.  Liotard’s wife came from France, but they married in Amsterdam and thereafter she seems to have insisted that he get rid of the preposterous beard. He certainly did and, in the process, grew in likeness to his contemporary, Voltaire


In a letter to Liotard, Marie was very religious. It is headed:


‘Maxime chretienne,

Aimer de tout ton coeur la Majeste Divine.

Ne dementer jamais sa celeste origin,

Suive jusqu’a la mort la solide bertu,

Mesurer ta depence avec ton revenue,

Entre civil, honete, obligent!..


In Amsterdam, Liotard’s family lived in a rented house on the Raamgracht in the middle of en area of small industries and businesses. In 1757 they left the Netherlands for Switzerland, but in 1771 returned for a couple more years The lines of a preliminary drawing made in 1772 (incorrectly annotated ‘fils du peintre’ but in fact of Princess Louise van Oranjea-Nassau as a baby), the anxiety of the artist to get the correct attitude of the hands, and of the facial expression, exceeds his visible concern to make any relationship between them. The heavy brown end black marks and dots that are the costume show a speed at which he wanted to be rid of the burdensome side of his function.


There is a note by Rieck Jedgehuis (1729-1806) on how to make a picture using the pastel crayon.


1)    Bring the hand to the crayon.       

2)    Put in the outline.
3)    Put in the cold tints.   

4)    The warm tints.
5)    The deep ground.                      

6)    Put in the eyes, softy.
7)    Lay over the ground.

8)    The colour of the eyes
9)    First highlights.           

10)  The second, deeper, highlighting.

11)  (indecipherable)                       

12) Tint. De Kleeding, etc., versegsolde deselfde regels. (The clothing etc. follows the same rules.)


Beneath the brown scrawl are two recent looking black crayon blobs and a mauve one. On a nearby unfinished portrait of a young man, the artist has from the beginning concentrated on the face, hardly bothering to mark in the line of the body. On the jacket however, three experimental daubs of leaf’ green and yellow, look forward to the recreation of yet another garment of haute couture.


Alexander Roslin, ‘The Swedish Painter’, was a friend of Liotard, ‘The Turkish Painter.’ Roslin’s portraits were somewhat milder than those of Liotard in tone, but perhaps better at character analysis. Another contemporary, J.P. Perroneau, also visited the Netherlands. His trademark was a more free use of the pastel medium than Liotard, working with a nervous, textured manner. The pastels of Maurice Quentin de la Tour seem more trustworthy (bestendiger) and have more presence than those of Liotard.


There has been a marked fluctuation in prices obtainable by and paid for works of portraiture since the time of Liotard. Then the client would overturn all obstacles to have that unique thing – mild flattery under the guise of an objective portrait. Nowadays we have not moved on much further. The difference between then and now is in an attitude to the subject. Neither artist not client care to be enchanted by each other. Perhaps this is the true reason why the magic has for a while gone out of the portrait.


Adapted from a review of ‘Liotard in the Netherlands’, exhibition, Utrecht, by Timothy Foster, 24th August 1985


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Dessins de Liotard: suivi du catalogue de loeuvre dessiné: Genève, Musée dart et dhistoire 17 juillet – 20 septembre 1992. Paris, Musée du Louvre 15 octobre – 14 décembre
Liotard in Nederland (Dutch Edition)  – amazon usa 
chick chocolat
Dessins de Liotard: Suivi du catalogue de l’euvre dessine (French Edition)  –amazon.usa
Jean Etienne Liotard: Erkenntnisvermogen Und Kunstlerischer