Monday, December 22, 2014

Liotard, Jean-Étienne

Apollo and Daphne, After Gianlorenzo Bernini
pastel on paper
66.2 × 51.2 cm
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789) was a Swiss-French painter, art connoisseur, dealer, and also an expert collector of paintings by the old masters. He was an artist of great versatility, and though his fame depends largely on his graceful and delicate pastel drawings, he achieved distinction by his enamels, copperplate engravings and glass painting.

He was born at Geneva. His father was a jeweller. He first trained as a miniature painter in Geneva, where he mastered the extraordinary fineness of application that was to be the hallmark of his pastel style. While in his twenties he sought his fortune in Paris, where he studied in a prominent painter's studio. After rejection by the Academie Royale, he traveled to Italy, where he obtained numerous portrait commissions. He next embarked on a journey throughout the Mediterranean region and finally settled in Constantinople for four years (1738-42). Intrigued by the native dress, he grew a long beard and acquired the habit of dressing as a Turk, earning himself the nickname of "the Turkish painter." While in Constantinople, he painted portraits of members of the British colony. For the remainder of his life, he traveled throughout Europe painting portraits in pastels. He gained an international reputation in this medium for his care and skill in achieving an accurate likeness of his sitters. His delicate and polished style brought him fashionable success as a portraitist in Paris, Vienna, Italy, the Netherlands, and England. In his last days he painted still lifes and landscapes.

In 1781, at the age of seventy-nine, he wrote and published a treatise on painting "Traite des principes et des regles de la peinture (the Art of Painting)", in which he emphasized the importance of drawing: he said it should be ‘clear, without being dry; firm, without being hard or stiff; flowing, without being flabby; delicate and true, without being mannered’. In that treatise, he also explained his belief that painting is and should be a mirror of nature.