Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Jean-Etienne Liotard at the Royal Academy – 24th October 2015 to 31st January 2016

Exhibition Review : Jean-Etienne Liotard at the Royal Academy – 24th October 2015 to 31st January 2016


The Royal Academy presents the first retrospective exhibition in the UK to be devoted to Jean-Etienne Liotard, bringing together over 70 rarely-seen works. They cover the artist’s time in Paris, Vienna, Geneva, Constantinople and London. Although Liotard’s work is largely unknown, In his day he was one of Europe’s most sought-after portrait painters, commanding high prices for his work and painted portraits of members of the British, French and Austrian royal families.

Jean-Etienne Liotard born in 1702 in Geneva and trained there and in Paris, however it was his four years in Constantinople where he gained his reputation as an Orientalist painter and his nickname as ‘the Turk’. His eccentric appearance and his remarkable skill at painting with pastel on parchments led to a number of lucrative commissions working at the courts of Vienna, Paris and London.


It is in the first room in the exhibition that we are introduced to Jean-Etienne Liotard with a series of self portraits and portraits of his family. His Self – portrait Laughing (c.1770) gives some insight into his character which shows his wide grin and him pointing enigmatically. There is more finger-pointing with an attractive and touching portrait of his daughter Marianne Liotard Holding a Doll (c.1775).


In the next room, the artists time in the Levant is explored with a series of portraits executed in his four years in Constantinople. Liotard managed to tap into the European fascination with the Ottoman Empire with works such as Laura Tarsi (c.1741) and the extraordinary Woman on a Sofa reading.


Liotard arrived in London in 1753 looking for commissions, his popularity led to other painters especially Joshua Reynolds dismissing his style and his appearance as unworthy. Liotard had already painted a number of wealthy British subjects including the famous actor David Garrick and his wife and quickly gained commissions  from the upper echelons of British Society.


It is within the rooms of the British Society Portraits, Court Portraits and Continental Society Portraits especially that it is possible to understand part of Liotard’s appeal to the elites, his portraits are full of life and finely crafted. However it is the attention to detail that sets the artist apart from most of his competitors, Liotard originally trained as a miniaturist and the detail in the clothes of his sitters is remarkable, for the fashion conscious elites it was often their clothes that conveyed their cosmopolitan status and wealth.


Such was Liotard’s reputation he was commissioned to paint portraits of members of the British, French and Austrian royal families. He painted Louis XV and family in Paris, Augusta, Princess of Wales and family in London and the children of Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna including a young Marie Antoinette whose haughty look and small red ribbon round the neck reminds us of her untimely end.


The final room shows Liotard’s skill in other genres, a number of Still life, Trompe l’oeil and Genre scenes offer evidence that Liotard was able transfer his remarkable attention to detail to still life in oil and pastels to create remarkable works of art.

For anyone visiting this intriguing and informative exhibition, the question most likely to be asked is why is the name of Jean-Etienne Liotard not more widely known ?
Some of the reasons seems to be that pastel painting went out of fashion towards the end of his life and most of his portraits were personal portraits that were made to be hung in the privacy of the home and stayed in private collections. Remarkably, Liotard exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 and 1774  and offered his collection of Old Masters and a selection of his own work for sale. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity for visitors to assess the work of one of the great portrait painters of the 18th Century.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here

24 October — 31 January

Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm


£11.50 (without donation £10). Concessions available. Friends of the RA and under 16s go free.

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