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Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-89)

A Self-Portrait c. 1753

Enamel with Ivory backing encased in gilded Hatfield frame | 5.9 x 4.5 cm (sight) | RCIN 421436

In an exhibition, National Gallery [London]

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  • Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789) was born in Geneva, the son of the goldsmith, Antoine Liotard, and twin brother of the engraver, Michel Liotard. He studied in Geneva and Paris, and travelled extensively in Italy. In Florence, he met Sir William Ponsonby, later Earl of Bessborough, and they travelled together to Constantinople (Istanbul) where he stayed for five years. Liotard's role was 'to draw the dresses of every country they should go into; to take prospects of all the remarkable places which had made a figure in history; and to preserve in their memories, by the help of painting, those noble remains of antiquity which they went in quest of', according to a contemporary account of their travels. After more European travels, to Vienna where he painted Empress Maria Theresa and the imperial family and court, then to Venice, Darmstadt, Lyons and Geneva, Liotard settled in Paris from 1748 to 1753 and became painter to the king, Louis XV, and a member of the Academy of St. Luke. He visited England twice, in 1753-5 and 1773-4 and was commissioned to paint the royal family, in pastel and in miniature. In 1777, he was invited to Vienna by the Emperor Joseph II; he lived in the Hofburg and was considered one of the best miniaturists of his time. He published a treatise in 1781: Traité des principes et des règles de la peinture (Treaty on the principles and rules of painting) which argued for the importance of draughtsmanship and naturalistic colouring.

    During his five-year sojourn in the Levant, Liotard adopted the style of dress for which he became known as 'le Peintre Turc', a nickname that he embraced, using it to sign his works. The distinctive black-trimmed red felt fes shown here, traditionally used as a base around which a turban could be wrapped, reappears in a number of Liotard’s self-portraits, often worn beneath a large sable cap. In fact, the fur cap was Moldavian, not Turkish, and was probably acquired by Liotard after moving to Jassy in 1742 as court artist to the Prince of Moldavia in 1742–3. The text accompanying his 1744 self-portrait (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) notes that the artist chose this style of dress for comfort. However, it was also evidently a commercial selling point. Liotard's unconventional personal appearance was evidently a source of fascination for other artists, as well as patrons.

    Liotard's long greying beard, here beautifully silhouetted against the pure, white background, was particularly unconventional. In eighteenth-century Europe a clean-shaven face was considered a mark of Western cultivation. Liotard is said to have shaved off his beard upon his marriage to Marie Gargues in 1756, apparently at her insistence. This miniature was probably painted around the time of his arrival in London in 1753.

    The miniature is inscribed on the backing in ink: Liotard / by / Himself / 1753.

    Adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016.

    Possibly acquired by Augusta, Princess of Wales on 15 August 1755

  • Medium and techniques

    Enamel with Ivory backing encased in gilded Hatfield frame


    5.9 x 4.5 cm (sight)

    8.4 x 6.0 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Portrait of the Artist

    Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789)