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Jean-Etienne Liotard (Geneva 1702- 1789), A Dutch Girl at Breakfast. Oil on canvas, 46.8 x 39 cm.; 18¾ in by 15⅜ in. Est. £4-6 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Hot on the heels of the Scottish National Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts’ exhibitions which revealed the genius of Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1798) to a wider audience, Sotheby’s London will offer a rare work by the Swiss master whose pastel portraits caught the imagination of his contemporaries, from Europe to the Levant. A highlight of the recent show at the Royal Academy of Arts, A Dutch Girl at Breakfast has not appeared on the market for almost 250 years. It is one of the rare oil paintings by the celebrated artist, and the only genre scene of an interior he painted in oils to remain in private hands. Probably painted in Holland in 1755-56, the work was bought in the artist’s sale in London in 1774 by his long standing friend and patron, William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough who played a decisive role in the artist’s life and career. This magnificent painting remained in the possession of the descendants of the Earl ever since and will be offered in Sotheby’s London evening sale of Old Master and British Paintings on 6 July 2016, with an estimate of £4-6 million. 

Alex Bell, Joint International Head and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department said: “Liotard was an “outsider”, an extraordinarily innovative artist whose remarkable technical mastery won him the admiration of Enlightenment Europe and places him today among the greatest artists of the 18th century. The incredible finesse and astonishing vivacity of his art is everywhere in A Dutch Girl at Breakfast. The painting’s extraordinary unbroken provenance stretching back almost 250 years is matched only by its rarity in Liotard’s oeuvre, both in terms of its subject and its medium.” 

William Ponsonby (1703-1793) was Liotard’s most important patron. During his lifetime, he acquired more than 70 works by the artist. The two men first met in Florence in 1737 and travelled together to the Levant the following year. This encounter proved a turning point in Liotard’s life and career. It not only brought the painter success in the highest circles of European aristocracy but also had an impact on the eccentric public image the painter created for himself. After his return in Europe, his waist-length beard and habit of dressing in oriental costume earned him the nickname of “The Turk”. 

Probably painted during Liotard’s first stay in Holland in 1755-56, A Dutch Girl at Breakfast - also recorded in the Bessborough inventories and in past publications as “La Chocolatière” - is perhaps the work that best captures the artist’s admiration for the great Dutch genre painters of the 17th century, such as Metsu and Vermeer, and the inspiration he found in the work of his contemporaries, especially Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. 

On account of its domestic subject, and equally no doubt because of the elements of the coffee service, the painting has always been compared with Liotard’s most celebrated work in this vein, the famous pastel entitled La Belle Chocolatière, painted in Vienna in 1744-45, and today in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. 

The work, which displays Liotard’s unique skill to render the effect of light on different textures and colours, also reflects perfectly his approach to painting, which earned him the epitaph of “painter of truth”.