Jean-Étienne Liotard (Geneva 1702-1789) . Presumed portrait of Laura Tarsi in Turkish dress
bodycolor on ivory. 4 x 3¼ in. (102 x 83 mm.). Estimate $80,000 - $120,000
Literature: M. Röthlisberger and R. Loche, Liotard, The Netherlands, 2008, no. 220a, fig. 352a.
Notes: The influence of Liotard's four year sojourn in Constantinople (1738-42) endured long after his return to Western Europe. He continued to wear Turkish dress and perpetuated the taste for turquerie through his many exotic images of the Ottoman world. The present portrait is a rare example of his work on ivory that exhibits some of the technique of Persian miniatures in its minute, highly colored details. It is a confluence of the real and imagined, the exotic and the familiar, inspired and informed by his time in the Levant.
This previously unrecorded image and three other versions of it have traditionally been consided portraits of Laura Tarsi, a Greek woman thought to be the mistress of the Marques of Granby (1721-1770) when both were living in Constantinople in the 1740s. Perhaps the reason for this identification is related to the fact that a version of this portrait was at one point in the collection of the Marquess of Granby (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; inv. PD.9-2006). In addition to the Fitzwilliam portrait, the other two versions are Lady in a red dress with a black coat (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), and Lady in a pink dress with a black coat (Hermitage, St. Petersburg; R. Loche and M. Röthlisberger, L'opera completa di Liotard, Milan, 1978, p. 125, no. M1). Dr. Bodo Hofstetter dates the present work to the 1750s, after Liotard's return from Constantinople (Loche and Röthlisberger, op. cit, 2008). Although the identification of the sitter cannot be confirmed definitively, this type of portrait of a Western woman in exotic dress is one at which Liotard excelled and made popular while in Constantinople and after his return to Western Europe. For example, the identity of a woman in Turkish costume traditionally thought to be Empress Maria Theresa of Austria has also been debated (exhib. cat., Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1702-1789: Masterpieces from the Musées d'Art et d'Histoire of Geneva and Swiss Private Collections, Geneva, 2nd ed., 2006, p. 69). The sitters in all these portraits are wearing variations of the same costume, as is another woman in the full-length pastel portrait entitled A Frankish Woman from Pera, Constantinople (Jean-Etienne Liotard, op. cit., 2006, p. 59). One can imagine Liotard keeping these costumes in his studio for models and other sitters to wear, and the commissions could have been for specific portraits in turquerie style or of beautiful and exotic images in an Orientalist style.
There is also a print by Willam Greatbatch (1802-circa 1885), most likely after the Stockholm miniature. There is an inscription on the print that indicates that the miniature was in the collection of the Earl of Harrington in 1844.
We are grateful to Professor Marcel Röthlisberger and Dr. Bodo Hofstetter for confirming the attribution of this miniature and providing additional cataloguing information.
Christie's. Important Old Master Paintings. 28 January 2009. New York, Rockefeller Plaza. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2009. www.christies.com