Portrait of a gentleman
Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789)
18th century, Pastel on parchment
This elegant pastel portrait depicts a gentleman in half-length who looks towards the viewer in three-quarter perspective. He wears a simple green suit and a powdered wig. We do not know the identity of the man portrayed by Jean-Étienne Liotard, an artist born in Geneva and one of the most cosmopolitan artists of the 18th century who specialised in the pastel technique and in painting portraits not only of the nobility at the courts where he stayed, but also of the bourgeoisie. Pastels were very convenient and practical for carrying out his work during his numerous travels (throughout Italy, and in Constantinople, Paris, London, the Netherlands, Vienna...): the colours did not fade over time and they enabled him to work quickly. This technique was widely used in 18th century France. Rather than shading (with a "powdered effect"), Liotard used pastels with a "flatter" surface technique, achieving a very different result, which was more sober, still and very elegant, similar to oil painting. The desire for solemnity can also be seen in the choice of plain-coloured backgrounds, which were often greyish-brown in colour. His success was in large part due to the accuracy of his depictions, which bore a resemblance that sometimes appeared truly ruthless: Madame de Pompadour, for example, on seeing her portrait painted by the painter exclaimed: ‘Your beard, Sir, is your only merit’.