Lot 83
  • 83

Jean-Etienne Liotard Geneva 1702- 1789

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Jean-Etienne Liotard
  • portrait of the philosopher and naturalist charles bonnet
  • bears faint inscription in red chalk on the verso: Bennel Pasteur /J. E. Liotard
  • black and red chalk, over white chalk in the area of the wig; drawn on half a sheet which has been folded and the verso selectively toned with red and black and orange chalk 


Christoph Bernoulli, Basel;
purchased from him on 22 May 1944 by Dr. Tobias Christ, Basel;
by inheritance to the present owners 


P.-E. Schazmann, 'Un dessin inédit de J.-E. Liotard, le Portrait du Pasteur Jacob Bennelle', in Pro Arte. Revue internationale d'art ancien and contemporain, no. 45, January 1946, pp. 17-19 reproduced;
A. de Herdt, Dessins de Liotard, exhibition catalogue, Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire and Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1992, p. 192, under no. 105, reproduced


The sheet is overall in quite good condition, the chalk still fresh and vivid. The paper has discoloured to a light beige colour, possibly due to once being backed by a wooden board (?). There are traces at the upper and lower margins of where a mount once covered part of the sheet, causing the paper to appear slightly whiter.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

When this very handsome study by Liotard was first published in 1946 (see Literature) it was incorrectly identified as a portrait of the pastor Jacob Bennelle (1725-1794), presumably due to the old inscription that it bears.  However, Anne de Herdt (Literature, loc. cit.) recognised that the sitter is actually Charles Bonnet (1720-1798), on the basis of comparison with a portrait now in the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire, Geneva.  Bonnet was both a philosopher and a man of science, particularly interested in natural sciences and in the evolution of species.   He published two philosophical books,  Méditations sur l'origine des sensations and Essai de Psycologie (1754) and was part of an élite of enlightened European thinkers and scientists and a member of various European academies.  The portrait in Geneva is executed in black and red chalk and graphite and appears less refined, more broadly drawn, and generally less subtle than the present drawing.  Anne de Herdt proposes dating both around 1758-1762.

If one unfolds the present, doubled sheet, one sees the extraordinary 'negative' image of the portrait  which is on the verso of the sheet (reproduced next page).  Liotard, always so experimental, unconventional and innovative in his works, seems to have traced the contours of the figure from the recto, most probably in red chalk as is evident around the wig area, 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, subtly modifying the tonality of the page.  In fact, this was a device that Liotard used fairly reguarly in his later drawings, for example, the Portrait of Charles-Benjamin de Langes de Montmirail, Baron de Lubières, a work of the same period.1  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.

1. See de Herdt, op.cit., no. 106, the verso also reproduced.

2. de Herdt, op.cit., p. 8