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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION

Jean-Etienne Liotard
A WOMAN IN TURKISH COSTUME IN A HAMAM INSTRUCTING A SERVANT
Estimate
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Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,000,0003,000,000
LOT SOLD. 2,415,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
33

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION

Jean-Etienne Liotard
A WOMAN IN TURKISH COSTUME IN A HAMAM INSTRUCTING A SERVANT
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,000,0003,000,000
LOT SOLD. 2,415,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London

Jean-Etienne Liotard
GENEVA 1702 - 1789
A WOMAN IN TURKISH COSTUME IN A HAMAM INSTRUCTING A SERVANT

Provenance

Probably John Hawkins (1761–1841);

By inheritance to his son John Heywood Hawkins (1802–1877), Bignor Park, Pulborough, Sussex;

By inheritance to his nephew John Heywood Johnstone (1850–1904);

By inheritance to his widow, Mrs. John Heywood Johnstone (d. 1924),

Her estate sale, London, Christie’s, 20 February 1925, lot 44;

Purchased at the above sale by Mrs Heywood Johnstone’s son-in-law, Robert Beart Lucas, Shillington Manor, Hitchin, Herts;

With Rodolphe Dunki, Geneva;

From whom acquired in 1937 by Bernard Naef, Geneva; 

By inheritance to his son, from whose estate sold, London, Christie’s, 4 July 1995, lot 148;

There acquired for the present collection.

Exhibited

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Jean-Etienne Liotard.  Sammlung des Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Genf, 1978, ex-catalogue (according to a label on the back of the frame);

Geneva, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, and Paris, Musée du Louvre, Dessins de Liotard, 1992, no. 29.

Literature

R. Loche, Jean-Etienne Liotard, Geneva 1976, under no. 3;

R. Loche and M. Roethlisberger, L'opera completa di Liotard, Milan 1978, no. 53;

F. Zegler, Stiftung Oskar Reinhart Winterthur, Zürich 1981, under no. 105;

A. Boppe, Les peintres du Bosphore au XVIIIe siècle, Courbevoie 1989, p. 285;

R. Loche, J.-E. Liotard dans les collections genevoises, Milan 1990, no. 1, illustrated in colour;

M. Roethlisberger and R. Loche, Liotard, 2 vols., Doornspijk 2008, vol. I, p. 464, no. 297, reproduced vol. II, pl. 433.

Catalogue Note

Though his ties with his native Switzerland never wavered, there was perhaps no 18th-century artist who was more truly cosmopolitan than Jean-Etienne Liotard.  Over a career that spanned six decades, he worked in almost all the main cultural centres of Europe, and also immersed himself more profoundly than any of his artistic contemporaries in the exotic – and very fashionable – world of Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire.   Rejected at an early stage by the Paris academy, he honed his craft outside the artistic mainstream, and his works in his preferred medium of pastel are often of startling technical and compositional originality.  This exceptional pastel, one of the most famous images that he ever made, encapsulates all of the technical brilliance and timeless mystery that underpin Liotard’s genius and enduring appeal.

Having attempted, with only limited success, to establish himself in Paris, Liotard travelled in 1736 to Rome.  There, according to the autobiography that he published in 1774, he happened to meet, in a coffee house, the English aristocrat William, Lord Ponsonby, later 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793), who apparently admired a miniature copy that Liotard had made of the Venus de’ Medici.  Ponsonby was about to embark on an expedition to Constantinople, together with John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), and they invited Liotard to accompany them ‘to draw the dresses of every country they should go into; to take prospects of all the remarkable places which had made a figure in history; and to preserve in their memories, by help of painting, those noble remains of antiquity which they went in quest of’.1.  Sandwich wrote an account of the journey, and although this was only published, with minimal illustrations, some years after his death, he may have had in mind from the start a project to publish his diary, with illustrations based on drawings by Liotard.2.

The party sailed from Naples on 3 April 1738, and having passed by the islands of Paros, Samos, Chios and Smyrna, they arrived in Constantinople.   Along the way, Liotard made various drawings of the people and costumes of these locations, in his typical media of red and black chalk, which would serve him well as sources for the rest of his career.  Once in Constantinople, the status of the artist’s travelling companions, and the resultant support of the British Ambassador, Sir Everard Fawkener, meant that doors immediately opened, and Liotard received many commissions for portraits, not only from the community of expatriate merchants, diplomats and travellers, but even from the Grand Vizier himself.  Constantinople was at this time a remarkable cultural crossroads, with the European merchants and diplomats living on the slopes of Galata and Pera on the Golden Horn pressed close by vibrant communities of Muslims, Jews, Armenians and Greeks – a magnet for traders from all corners of the Ottoman Empire, and beyond. 

The faces, costumes, textiles and habits of all these people were to provide Liotard with a repertoire of motifs and images that he would use for the rest of his life.  Indeed, during and after his four-year stay in Constantinople, and then in the Moldavian city of Jassy (in modern-day Romania), Liotard himself adopted the costume of the region and grew a luxuriant beard, as we see in a number of self-portraits, including the fine pastel now in Dresden (fig. 1).3.  On one such self-portrait of 1744, executed for inclusion in the famous collection of artists’ self-portraits in the Uffizi, Florence, he even wrote, in large letters: ‘J.E. Liotard de Geneve Surnommé le Peintre Turc, peint par lui meme…’4., and when he came to London in 1753, he was not ashamed to be known as ‘the Turkish painter’, thereby profiting from the great fashion for all things Ottoman and Levantine that had developed in England, following the publication in 1717 of the travel diaries of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  Sir Joshua Reynolds, it should be noted, considered Liotard’s cultivation of this image as nothing short of fraudulent quackery, though that view may well have been coloured as much by professional jealousy as genuine moral outrage.  But Liotard’s knowledge of Turkish customs and interiors, together with the crates of clothes that he brought back with him from Constantinople, proved irresistible to his elegant clientele in London, Paris, Vienna and elsewhere, and the resultant series of portraits ‘a la turcque’ constitute one of the most significant and original elements of the artist’s surviving work. 

Whereas many of Liotard’s Turkish-inspired compositions are specific portraits of European patrons dressed in exotic costumes, a small number seem to have been conceived as genre scenes, capturing in a more generalised way the details and customs of life in Constantinople.  This pastel is one of the most ambitious of the artist’s works of this latter type, and the fact that it exists in no fewer than five autograph versions is testimony to its great popularity with Liotard’s patrons.  Of the five versions (four of which are in the artist’s preferred medium of pastel), Roethlisberger and Loche consider this one and the example in the Geneva Museum to be the best in terms of quality.5.  The Geneva pastel, which differs slightly from the others in the spatial relationship between the two figures, and other compositional details such as the treatment of the floor, was probably the first to be executed, most likely around 1742, either towards the end of the artist’s stay in Constantinople and Jassy, or shortly after his return to Paris.  In addition to the present pastel, three more versions are known, all very close to this work in composition, and possibly executed with the aid of some kind of tracing from it that Liotard would have made so that he could produce additional faithful replicas after the original pastel was sold.6  One of these other versions, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, is in oil, the other two are pastels, now in the Stiftung Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur, and the Orientalist Museum, Doha.7.  

The subject is a lady and her servant, standing beside the kurna, the stone washbasin that is found at the entrance to the hottest part of a Turkish bath, the calidarium, where visitors to the baths would begin the process of washing, before entering the baths themselves.  They are both extremely elaborately dressed, the tips of their fingers coloured with the traditional henna that the servant carries in the pot on her tray, alongside a double-sided ivory comb, but the lady must in fact have been a European – possibly Greek, Jewish, Armenian or ‘Frankish’ (a term generally applied at the time to people originating from Northern European countries such as France, England or Holland); Liotard would not have had access to Muslim women.  The lady’s heavy costume consists of no fewer than five distinct layers, and would surely have been far too hot to be worn inside the baths, though the tall wooden slippers with blue embroidered bands (takunya) are indeed what she and her servant would have worn into this part of the baths, to avoid burning their feet on the heated stones. 

The costume is, however, consistent with how a Turkish woman would have been dressed in preparation for a traditional pre-marriage visit to the baths.  Only on that occasion would she go to the baths dressed in garments such as the white fur waistcoat embroidered with gold threads that we see here, with a string of gold coins around her neck (one side bearing the first line of the Koran, the other the official monogram of the Sultan), and other lavish gold and silk adornments. The virtuosic depiction of this extremely elaborate costume therefore takes on something of an ethnographic function, as a faithful record of an important aspect of Turkish culture and customs – a very different function from the more contrived portraits in exotic costume that made up so much of Liotard’s output during his time in Constantinople.  Even the colour scheme, with the intense opulence of the costumes set against a rather misty, greyish-brown background with only the faintest of shadows, somehow mimics the visual effect of seeing these sumptuously dressed figures through the steamy atmosphere of the baths, further emphasising that this is a snapshot not so much of the individual people as of the location and the specific event.

The pastel must have been based on chalk drawings, made from life, but no corresponding studies are known; one can, though, get a good impression of how they might have looked from a red and black chalk drawing in the Louvre, which shows another woman in a similar Turkish costume, also wearing the same wooden slippers (fig.2).8.  Yet despite the compositional links that can sometimes be established between Liotard’s drawings of this type and his more elaborate, large-scale pastels, the respective moods of these works could not be more different: the drawing a delightful, but essentially factual, record, the pastel a work that transports the viewer to a different world.  Liotard’s originality as an artist also manifested itself in his works in other media, notably miniature painting and enamel work, as well as in his much rarer oil paintings; in all these very different media, he broke new ground, and made works that were somehow unlike anything produced by any of his contemporaries.      

The present pastel was probably owned by John Hawkins, who traded in the Levant in the years around 1800, and who also owned another pastel by Liotard of a Turkish subject, his Woman in Turkish Costume Playing a Tambourine.9.  It remained in the same family until 1937, when it was acquired by the great Swiss collector of Liotard, Bernard Naef.  In 1995, the pastel was sold by Naef’s descendants, and acquired by the present owner.  A prime version of one of the compositions that best defines Liotard’s unique link with the Ottoman world, and a superb example of his unparalleled technical brilliance as a pastellist, hardly any other works by Liotard of comparable importance and visual appeal still remain in private hands. 

1 Jean-Etienne Liotard 1702-1789, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, and Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2015-16, p. 65 .
2  John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, A voyage performed by the late Earl of Sandwich, round the Mediterranean in the years 1738 and 1739, London 1799.
3  Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister, inv. P159; Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, no. 158.
4  Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv. 1890/1937; Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, no. 128.
Geneva, Musée d’art et d’histoire, inv. 1936-17; Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, no. 67.
6  Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, p. 275.
Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, nos. 68, 69 and 298, respectively.
8  Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. RF 1378.
9  Roethlisberger and Loche 2008, no. 65.

Old Masters Evening Sale

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