Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries

Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 43. Portrait of Jacob Tronchin.

Jean-Étienne Liotard

Portrait of Jacob Tronchin

Auction Closed

January 26, 04:31 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 USD

Lot Details


Jean-Étienne Liotard

Geneva 1702 - 1789

Portrait of Jacob Tronchin

Black and red chalk

235 by 180 mm; 9¼ by 7 in.

Please note that lot 43 is exhibited in a carved and part gilded Viennese style frame kindly on loan from Gino Franchi. For purchase enquiries please contact the Old Master Drawings Department.
Probably by descent in the Tronchin family until the middle of the 20th century (bears typed label on the back of the frame: Propriété de Monsieur/Robert TRONCHIN-BESSINGE);
Private Collection, France
A. de Herdt, Dessins de Liotard, exhib. cat., Geneva, Musee d'art et d'histoire; Paris, Musee du Louvre, 1992, p. 90, under no. 104, reproduced p. 190

The sitter in this refined and delicately drawn portrait, of circa 1758, is Jacob Tronchin, son of Jean Tronchin (born in 1672), whose grand and characterful portrait by Liotard, in pastel, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2013,1 and of Anne Molènes, whose portrait by Liotard is in the Louvre.2

The Tronchins were an illustrious Geneva family, many members of which sat for Jean-Étienne Liotard, who captured their likeness in a variety of media, including chalk and pastel. Executed in the same year, and most probably conceived alongside the present work, is the black and red chalk portrait of Jacob’s wife, Madame Jacob Tronchin, née Marie Calandrini. Both husband and wife are portrayed bust length and in three-quarter view. Liotard embellishes Madame Trochin’s portrait with accessories, choosing to include part of the chair in which she is seated and also adds the muff in which her hands are concealed upon her lap.

Jacob’s father, Jean Tronchin, whose portrait in pastel was executed in 1759, was a leading figure in the life of his native city. He graduated as a Doctor of Law in 1696 and was elected member of the Council of Two Hundred in 1698, a civic auditor in 1708 and from 1718 until 1723 was a Procurer-General. Following in his father's footsteps, Jacob also became a prominent figure in Geneva society and also sat for some time on the Council of the Two Hundred, before becoming a State Councillor. Both men were extremely influential among the Geneva bourgeoisie of their time.

In the present drawing, Liotard has produced a portrait imbued with a quiet elegance. The sitter is clearly an important figure in society and is attired accordingly, but at the same time his body language and kind face suggest a warmth and good nature, rather than overt ostentation. Liotard’s genius was his ability to achieve a truthfulness in his portraiture across a variety of media, the inner psychology of the sitter receiving as much attention as their physical likeness. 

While it is not possible to see the verso of the present sheet, which is laid down, it is most likely that Liotard employed here the rather unusual technical device that is seen on a number of the versos of his chalk drawings, which plays a significant part in the artist's ability to achieve an almost transcendental luminosity of effect. This technique involved tracing the outlines of the figure on the verso in black chalk and then filling in various areas with blocks of strong red and black, possibly moistened pastel; these colours then show through slightly to the recto, subtly modifying the tonality of the page, and cleverly heightening the sense of depth and luminosity. Liotard most likely developed this ingenious practice when training as a miniaturist and enameller, adapting a technique not uncommon in miniature painting to his chalk portraits on paper in a highly innovative and effective way.4

In addition to the works mentioned above, Liotard also produced portraits of other members of the Tronchin family, which he executed over a period of approximately three years, 1758-1761. These include two drawings of the present sitter’s brother, Jean-Robert Tronchin (1710-1793),5 a pastel of Théodore Tronchin (1709-1781),6 who was a celebrated doctor and friend of Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot, a magnificent pastel portrait of another cousin, François Tronchin (1704-1798),7 now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a preparatory drawing in black and red chalk for that pastel, in a private collection.8

The majority of Liotard's Tronchin portraits, including the pendant to the present drawing, remained in the possession of the family until the line died out in the middle of the 20th century, at which point the family estate at Bessinge, just outside Geneva, was sold, together with the remaining collections. Liotard’s beautiful chalk drawings are a particularly personal and exceptional aspect of the œuvre of this highly individual artist. This fine example not only represents a member of one of Geneva’s most illustrious families, but encapsulates Liotard’s remarkable talent and virtuosity in portraiture.

1. Sale, London, Sotheby's, 3 July 2013, lot 70; M. Roethlisberger and R. Loche, Liotard, 2 vols., Doornspijk 2008, vol. I, p. 512, no. 358, reproduced vol. II, fig. 509

2. Roethlisberger and Loche, op. cit., no. 351

3. De Herdt, op. cit., no. 104, reproduced p. 191

4. Ibid., under no. 103, fig. 1 (verso of no. 103)

5. Roethlisberger and Loche, op. cit., nos. 580 & 581

6. Ibid., no. 416

7. Ibid., no. 349

8. De Herdt, op. cit. no. 102