REVIEW: Jean-Etienne Liotard, Royal Academy of Arts

This stunning and varied exhibition examines closely the work of an artist who deserves to be better known thanks to the quality of his work. 

key 28
Jean-Etienne Liotard, Self-portrait Laughing, c. 1770. Musee d’art et d’histoire, Geneva, inv. 1893-9 .Photo Musee d’art et d’histoire, Geneva. Photography: Bettina Jacot-Descombes.

With this extraordinary and high quality display of Jean-Etienne Liotard’s portraits, visitors get a glimpse of an artist who was able to capture his sitters perfectly from their facial expressions to the style of clothing.

The Swiss artist believed in painting truthful portraits of those who sat for him and there is a real sense of who the people in each of the paintings were really like, helped along by the captions beside each piece of work giving visitors an insight into their stories.

Although Liotard mainly favoured the half-length format for his work, he was still also able to master the full length and miniatures. Many of the works that stand out the most are in fact the enamels that are on display, for example his self-portrait in profile (1753) is wonderfully detailed and captures the honesty in the way in which he wanted to be seen and how he saw himself in old age.

What makes this exhibition a delight to look at is also the way in which his sitters were mainly captured in more of an informal manner than perhaps we are used to seeing in comparison with the way in which other portrait artists worked – some even have a smile on their faces. This informality again proves how Liotard was interested in capturing a person’s personality as much as their physical appearance.

The display of work selected for this exhibition shows Liotard’s ability to capture everything as precisely as possible – never leaving any detail to chance while at the same time he never embellishes his work or has a hint of vanity come through from the way in which he portrays his sitters. An example of this is his portrait of Marie-Justine-Benoite Favert-Duronceray – rich in texture and making an accurate study of the sitter as well as creating the illusion of a double portrait thanks to her shadow just behind her.

However, although it is well focused and detailed in terms of his career, it feels ever so slightly detached from the subject – perhaps lacking a little bit in enthusiasm and passion, despite the clear respect that those involved with making the exhibition have for Liotard’s work. But in all fairness, the exhibition flows well from one room to the next and is intelligent and well thought out in terms of the way in which the works have been displayed.

It is a very grand exhibition of his work that truly celebrates his skills as an artist and renowned in his time but has become sadly forgotten about as the years have gone by. The Royal Academy of Arts and  the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh (where the exhibition was before coming down to London) have done well to enlighten people about the work of this extraordinary artist.

Jean-Etienne Liotard opens at the Royal Academy of Arts from the 24th October until the 31st January 2016. The exhibition is open daily from 10am to 6pm with admission costing £11.50 (£10 excluding Gift Aid donation). 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: