Jean-Etienne Liotard at The Royal Academy

Young Woman in a Turkish Interior

‘Young Woman in a Turkish Interior’ counterproof on paper.

I am very excited that one of my favourite artists is being exhibited at the Royal Academy this Autumn. This artist was such an extraordinary man who embraced the Turkish style and fashion popular at that time.  He carried Turkish costumes with him on is travels and dressed his sitters in some of the most beautiful clothes. He was renowned for his amazingly colourful pastels, his ability to gain a likeness and his skill at depicting fabrics. He was also a brilliant self publicist and would have had a wonderful time on Twitter and Facebook.

Jean-Etienne Liotard 1702 – 1789 was the son of Huguenot parents, who had fled from France. They came to Geneva in 1701 with their 8 children. Jean-Etienne and his twin Jean-Michel were born in 1702. His father became a jewellery dealer and as young men the twins were apprenticed to a miniaturist engraver. In 1723 Jean-Etienne went to Paris and by 1726 was working as an independent engraver and painter. He especially liked to use pastels for his portraits. In 1736 he travelled to Florence and Rome where he worked for several influential patrons including several cardinals.

Liotard engraving

‘The Right Hon, Maria Countess of Coventry’ circa 1754

The Earl of Sandwich and Hon William Ponsonby were on ‘The Grand Tour’ when they met Jean-Etienne. He joined them while they explored Rome and Greece finally arriving in Istanbul. Here he was inspired by the Turkish dress and style. He painted western diplomats and their wives. In 1742 he was invited by Prince Mavrocodato of Moldavia to go to Iasi. He grew a beard and dressed in Turkish style dress and was nicknamed ‘Le Peintre Turc.’ This was a bit of shrewd publicity. When he went to Vienna he became very popular and famous and could achieve high prices for his portraits, drawings, pastels and miniatures. After 2 years in Vienna he went to Venice and caught up with his twin Jean-Michel, who was working there as an engraver.


‘Self Portrait’ 1744 – pastel on vellum

He arrived in London in 1753, renewed the contacts he had met abroad, and met up with his earlier travelling companions and patrons. His critics thought his portraits too like the sitter warts and all. He had plenty of sitters during his first year in London but not so many in the second. After London he went to Holland, painted and drew members of the House of Orange, leading courtiers, aristocrats and lawyers. With his earnings from his sales in Paris, Holland and London he began to make a collection of old masters. He particularly like the Dutch school.

Liotard 2

‘Young Woman Reading On A Sofa’  – oil on canvas

He had had many affairs on his travels and fathered at least 2 children. However at the age of 54 he married 27 year old Marie Fargues in 1756. He shaved his beard off as a wedding present!!!!  He fathered 5 children with Marie.  In 1758 he returned to Geneva and his fellow countrymen queued to have their portraits taken by their returned compatriot. He made a few trips in later life often in the role of art dealer. He always returned to his home in Geneva where he died in 1789.

If you are in London go and see this exhibition at The Royal Academy, which starts on the 24th October 2015 – 31st Jan 2016. I think it will be very good.


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