Jean-Étienne Liotard, born on December 2nd, 1702, was a miniaturist and portraitist of exceptional skill, as well as an art dealer and connoisseur of paintings by the old masters. He was of French parentage, but born in Geneva and raised in Switzerland because his French father, a jeweller by trade, had relocated (some say fled) there sometime after 1685. Liotard began his training as an artist under the watchful eyes of Professors Petitot and Gardelle, who were miniaturists and enamelists by trade. Liotard was a skillful student and he learned to copy his masters quickly and successfully.
After moving to Paris in 1725 he trained for some time with two painters, François Lemoyne and Jean-Baptiste Massè. In 1735 Liotard tried for but was refused entrance to the French Royal Academy, and as a consequence, Liotard became restless. It was due to his teachers’ recommendations that Liotard was accepted along for a trip to Naples that the Marquis Puisieux had arranged that same year. He stayed in Italy, and was noted to have been in Rome in 1735, having been commissioned to paint the portraits of several of the cardinals there, and even the portrait of Pope Clement XII. Finding another travelling companion, this time in 1738 with Lord Duncannon, Liotard journeyed to Constantinople.
He stayed in Constantinople for almost 5 years, and found himself ingrained into the Turkish culture. He arrived back in Vienna still dressed in Turkish clothes and sporting a long beard, and he was quickly dubbed “The Turkish Painter”. Liotard’s reputation got him the commission to paint the Imperial family in Vienna before he returned to Paris. Again, in 1753, he crossed the Channel to England where he met and painted the Princess of Wales. It was Liotard’s way, that he never embellished on a person’s features when he painted them. For some this was not an ideal situation, but for others the truth of a person’s features, especially a future unmet bride or groom, was an important matter. Liotard had a gift for exactness.
Holland was the next stop, where he spent a couple of years, starting in 1756. It was there that he met and married Marie Fargues, of French Huguenot descent, and it was only for her that he shaved off his Turkish beard. More trips to Vienna and England, and records show he entered his works at the Royal Academy in London in 1773 and 1774. Coming full circle, he finally returned home to the city of his birth, Geneva, in 1776.
For all of his fine works and reputation Liotard was never a member of any artist or painters’ group. He knew art well, and enjoyed purchasing and selling hard-to-find masterpieces, for himself and for avid art collectors. He continued to paint in his last years, mostly landscapes and still lifes, and he wrote his Traité des principes et des règles de la peinture (Treatise on the Principles and Rules of Painting) which was published in 1781.
In Geneva, in 1789, Jean-Étienne Liotard died. His paintings and drawings can be found in many museums today, several pieces being kept in French, Italian and Swiss museums, as well as in other European galleries. His Portrait de Monsieur Levett et Mademoiselle Glavani Assis Sur un Divan en Costume Turc (1738–1741) is in the Louvre, and the La Belle Lyonnaise, La Liseuse and The Chocolate Girl are in the Dresden Gallery in Germany. Liotard's son inherited many of the art pieces and other collections that Liotard had accumulated, and through his son’s Dutch wife, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands eventually became a beneficiary of some of Liotard’s works of art.