This exquisite portrait drawing by the Swiss maestro
, Jean-Étienne Liotard, perfectly demonstrates the artist's immense ability not only to render sitters in his preferred medium of pastel, but also on a more intimate scale in a highly refined combination of coloured chalks. Moreover if one examines the verso
of the present sheet, one sees the extraordinary 'negative' image of the portrait that the artist has created. Liotard, always so experimental, unconventional and innovative in his works, seems to have traced the contours of the figure from the recto,
in a combination of red and black chalk as is evident around the area of the chair, and then filled in the spaces in broad patches with coloured chalks, indicating the features of the face with a soft black, possibly moistened, pastel. The thinness of the paper allows the colouring to show through to the recto,
modifying the tonality of the page. In fact, this was a device that Liotard used fairly regularly in his later drawings, for example, the Portrait of Charles-Benjamin de Langes de Montmirail, Baron de Lubières
Occasionally he seems to have used watercolour instead of chalk for the same effect, as on the verso
of the Young Roman Woman seen in profile
in the Louvre.2
While the principles of this technique derive from his training as a miniaturist and enameller, Liotard seems to have been characteristically innovative and experimental in the way that he applied them to the rather different medium of drawing.
We are grateful to Marcel Roethlisberger for confirming the attribution to Liotard and to Renée Loche, who supports the attribution and suggests that the thus far unidentified sitter is of Genevan origin.
1. See A. de Herdt, Dessins de Liotard, exhibition catalogue, Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire and Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1992, no. 106, the verso also reproduced.
2. Ibid., p. 8