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Recent acquisitions at Tefaf part 2

2 March 2016

Jean–Ètienne Liotard
1702–1789
Pastel on paper
25 ¾ x 21 inches; 654 x 533 mm
Signed and inscribed on the original backboard in Liotard’s hand:
‘Milord Comte d’Albermarle [sic] / peint en crayon au pastel 1768 par J.E. Liotard /
on prie de ne point toucher a la peinture / ny aucun coup de Marteau.’

Drawn 1768

A Liotard portrait of a British sitter.

Having lived with Liotard at the Royal Academy for the last few months it is marvellous to be able to offer a major portrait of an important British sitter at Maastricht this March. This impressive pastel portrait was made by Liotard in 1768 whilst the sitter, George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle was visiting Geneva for his health. It is therefore not from one of Liotard’s two periods spent in London and the approach and technique differs markedly from the portraits of his London years.

Keppel  was one of the heroes of the Seven Years’ War, having led the successful capture of Havana in 1762. As a result of the victory Albemarle received more than £122,000 in prize money and was awarded with the Garter by George III. Liotard’s characteristically animated portrait was left unfinished, possibly because Albemarle had to return early to Britain following the court-martial of his brother, Admiral Augustus Keppel for insubordination. Albemarle’s opulent coat and recently acquired Garter sash and star provided the perfect vehicle for Liotard’s love of costume and fabric, the level of unfinish offers rare and important evidence for Liotard’s  working method.

Unusually signed and  inscribed on the backboard by Liotard himself and dated 1768 this portrait was made in Geneva, where Liotard had established a flourishing practice in 1757. The stylistic affinity with Liotard’s portraits of Swiss sitter’s is particularly evident in his striking modelling of volume and the sharply defined features. The lack of finish found in the presents important evidence for Liotard’s working method. The lace of the cuff itself is a highly sensitive piece of drawing, executed, like the hair and features to the highest level of finish; whilst the precise action of the right hand itself (neither securely within the sitter’s waistcoat or over the Garter sash, points to the ambiguity apparent in many of Liotard’s pictorial illusions.

This engaging, perceptive portrait of Albemarle is one of Liotard’s most animated and impressive depictions of a British sitter. The use of striking local colour, a strong light source from the right creating a forcefully modelled head and the level of finish and brilliant condition make it an exceptional work.