Feature

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789): Swiss Master

The little-known painter’s work exemplifies the age in which he lived.

The 18th-century Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard was renowned in his own time, but has been 'œresolutely forgotten since,' said Ariella Budick in Newsday. This may have to do with his style, which was realist at a time when rococo sensuality was in vogue. 'œHistorians tend to leave such stragglers out of the record.' It didn't help that much of his work never made it past the Swiss border. The show at the Frick, the artist's first in North America, will likely win Liotard a few new fans, though it 'œwill not gain him admission to the canon.' Perhaps the most exciting thing about this entrancingly odd painter is his absolute fidelity to fact. He painted his sitters exactly as they looked, without any flattery. Yet plenty of upper-crust families hired him. The Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa had him paint 11 of her children. 'œThese are worth lingering over.' Most look 'œdim-witted, vain, and unappealing.' Liotard emphasizes Archduke Peter Leopold's fleshy lips and haughty glance, Maria Josepha's puffy cheeks, and Marie-Antoinette's cold, calculating stare.

Liotard's Trompe l'Oeil (1771) is one of the exhibit's quieter gems, said Mario Naves in The New York Observer. The modest work 'œdoesn't offer a transformative glimpse into the human psyche or herald a profound alternative to the way we look at the world.' What it does offer are the myriad pleasures of illusion. A meticulous rendering of a wood panel on which are displayed two Roman bas-reliefs and a pair of drawings attached with sealing wax, the painting is irresistible. Most impressive is the skill it took to mimic the grain of the wood and depict cast shadows. 'œThe 'gee-whiz factor'—let's call it—is too primal a phenomenon to discount.'

The New York Times

Liotard Laughing

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