Portrait of a Man

Artist: Jean Étienne Liotard (Swiss, Geneva 1702–1789 Geneva)

Date: 1755–65

Medium: Red and black chalk on off-white laid paper, verso worked in black chalk (in area corresponding to the sitter's jacket on the recto)

Dimensions: Sheet: 9 1/2 × 7 3/8 in. (24.1 × 18.7 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.7


Born in Geneva and largely self-taught, Liotard spent a great part of his life travelling, capturing the likenesses of Europe’s upper classes with a steady and penetrating eye. His portraits, typically executed in chalk or pastel, exhibit a quasi-scientific clarity of observation, more suggestive of Enlightenment curiosity than of Rococo artifice.
In the present sheet, attention is focussed on the face, where a soft network of hatching in red and black chalk gently mark the topography of the sitter’s features as revealed by the fall of light. The thoughtful yet formal pose, with eyes gazing evenly into the distance, conveys a calm authority. The identity of this handsome and self-assured man unfortunately cannot be stated with certainty. A tradition within the family records of the previous owner identified the sitter as a member of the André family, bankers in Geneva and Paris.
Such sheets would have been considered finished works, as suggested by Liotard’s practice of applying colored wash on areas of the verso corresponding to hair, flesh, and clothing. Presumably, this was intended to subtly enhance tonal variations on the recto of the sheet.
(Perrin Stein)