Jean-Étienne Liotard – at the Frick

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), Liotard Laughing, c. 1770, oil on canvas
Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), Liotard Laughing, c. 1770, oil on canvas, 84 x 74 (33 1/16 x 29 1/8), Musée d’art et d’histoire, Département des Beaux-Arts

Whatever Liotard was paid for these pictures [of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa’s 16 children], it was too little. He poured every ounce of his talent into them. Each seamlessly blends several mediums: black and red chalk, pencil, pastel and watercolor. Details are executed with a watchmaker’s precision. To give the figures a naturalistic glow, Liotard colored the reverse side of each thin sheet of paper. Marie-Antoinette is bathed in a rosiness that you sense rather than actually see.

Jean-Étienne Liotard, the Unrelenting Eye of the Enlightenment,” by Holland Cotter, The New York Times, June 23, 2006

To his admirers, Liotard was the “painter of truth.” The artist was unsparing in his depiction of his sitters, including himself, avoiding the flattery and embellishment that characterized the art of his colleagues. He also avoided the painterly touches and visible brushstrokes favored by his contemporaries, railing in his Treatise on the Principles and Rules of Painting, published in 1781, that since one did not see such flourishes in nature, they had no place in art. Although the artist’s scrupulous realism put him at odds with the artistic establishment and did not please all of his sitters, it was the startling veracity of his likenesses that attracted the attention of noble and non-noble elites and secured his international reputation.

Special Exhibition: Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789): Swiss Master,” June 13 through September 17, 2006, at the Frick Collection
The Frick Museum is pay as you wish on Sundays, 11am to 1 pm. A great bargain, go early and enjoy…
The Frick Collection, web site, 1 East 70th Street, 212-288-0700