1744 - 1800


6 Perfect Likenesses

1. Portrait of Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone at Seven Years of Age ca. 1755-1756
by Jean-Étienne Liotard
(collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Jean-Étienne Liotard captured the seven-year-old child's youth and beauty, setting off her eyebrows, lashes, and lustrous hair against her soft, fresh complexion. Liotard developed remarkable technical skills in the difficult medium of pastels. Brilliantly describing surfaces and defining volume through subtle gradations of color, he depicted forms, textures, and the play of light with great immediacy. He favored using pastels, especially for portraits of children, because they could be manipulated with greater speed and ease, had no odor, and allowed for frequent interruptions.

2. Portrait of John, Lord Mountstuart, 1763
by Jean-Etienne Liotard
(collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Lord Bute, who commissioned this portrait as a memento of his son's Grand Tour, was so pleased with it that he paid the artist twice the agreed-upon price.

This portrait is one of the largest pastels Liotard ever painted and the only one to show a full-length subject in a meticulously described interior. His skillful effects of scale, format, and illusion challenged the conventional medium of oil painting, and Liotard himself considered the work a masterpiece.

3. Self-Portrait with a Visor
ca. 1776
by Jean-Siméon Chardin
(collection: The Art Institute of Chicago)

In a fitting finale to a long, successful career as a painter of still lifes and genre scenes, Chardin turned in his last decade to a new medium, pastel, and to a new subject matter, portraits (primarily self-portraits). Eye problems arising from lead-based oil paint poisoning were the partial cause of this dramatic change. Of the thirteen pastel self-portaits by Chardin known today, the most famous are versions of the example seen here, with the casually dressed, aging artist in his studio. A virtuoso colorist, the septuagenarian here revealed a joyously free stroke and palette. Nonetheless, the construction of the figure is solid and rigorous, adding to Chardin’s powerful presence.

4. Sir James Gray, Second Baronet , ca. 1744-1745
by Rosalba Carriera
(collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Rosalba Carriera played a key role in transforming pastel painting from an amateur pastime into a serious artistic pursuit. Most of her sitters were young tourists, impatient to get back to the manifold sensual pleasures readily available in Venice. By contrast, Sir James Gray, second Baronet (about 1708-1773) was a successful British diplomat and antiquarian living in the city. Carriera thus had the opportunity to get to know him well and study his countenance over repeated sittings, resulting in a penetrating characterization virtually unmatched in her oeuvre. Her meticulous attention to detail is evident in passages such as the strands of chestnut hair emerging from underneath Sir James's powdered wig.

5. Portrait of Joseph Gulston and his Brother John, ca. 1754
by Francis Cotes
(collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

The English artist Francis Cotes greatly admired the pastels of Rosalba Carriera, and like her emerged as one of its most pioneering artists in the medium.

In this double pastel portrait, Cotes captures the likeness of brothers Joseph and John Gulston who appear close-up in half-length, standing before an expanse of wooded landscape. The elder brother, Joseph, age thirteen, wears a "Van Dyck" costume, a costume in the style of Anthony van Dyck's portrait paintings from the 1600s. Also in a historicizing vein, his younger brother John wears a dress, traditionally worn by both boys and girls until they reached four years of age, and holds a wicker basket full of colorful summer blossoms. Francis Cotes captured his sitters with disarming directness. Joseph bears himself gracefully and engages the viewer with his gaze, yet he still retains the fragile self-reserve typical of an older boy. His brother John, however, caught in three-quarter view, moves and smiles with the unselfconscious spontaneity of a four-year-old. The contrast between the two boys' ages, clothing, and actions indicates that the subject is more than a likeness of two children--it serves as a commentary on the passage of childhood.

6. Portrait of George de Ligne Gregory, 1793
by John Russell
(collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

John Russell's engaging portrait of George de Ligne Gregory was likely painted to celebrate Gregory's appointment as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 1793. He is somberly yet richly dressed, alert yet seated at ease. The portrait's brilliant whites, velvety blacks, and masterful interplay of varied flesh tones with blues are all characteristics of Russell's virtuoso application of pastel. Russell achieved the even tonality by manually smudging broad, soft areas of crayon onto the paper. He then applied fine, linear flourishes, such as the white highlighting on the cravat and in the hat lining, with a hard, pointed crayon. Russell's technical facility and acute powers of observation resulted in an engaging representation of the sitter.

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