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Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789)

Portrait of a Woman called Lady Fawkener

circa 1760

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The sitter in this portrait is believed to be Harriet Churchill, the wife of Sir Everard Fawkener, English ambassador to Constantinople (now Istanbul) from 1737 to 1746.  Fawkener and the Swiss pastel painter Liotard had become acquainted in the Turkish capital, where the artist produced pastel portraits of members of the British colony.  Liotard was based in Constantinople from 1738 to 1742, where he developed the habit of wearing full Turkish dress and grew a long beard, this eccentric appearance greatly contributed to his celebrity when he later returned to Europe and he became known as ‘the Turkish painter’.  

In the mid-1750s Sir Everard Fawkener and Liotard met again in London, where this portrait was probably painted.  Lady Fawkener is described in contemporary accounts as a “very intriguing” and “prettyish” woman who danced well but this opinion was expressed up to fifteen years before the portrait was painted. 

Here she is shown holding a thread and picking something from a sewing box, perhaps a reference to her husband’s former profession as a merchant of cloth and silk. Lady Fawkener’s black and white costume is not necessarily intended to appear as mourning dress but as her husband died in 1758, it is possible that this portrait was produced once she was widowed. She is set against an unadorned background and portrayed with a very direct outlook towards the viewer, two characteristics of Liotard’s innovative style of portraiture;  his success owed much to the care he took to achieve a close likeness of his subjects.  The artist was a fine pastel painter, a soft chalk-based medium which allows a variety of pictorial effects and was thus suited both to the detailed depiction of fabrics and the broader depiction of the flesh, as can be seen in the sitter’s black lace shawl and arms.
Try experimenting with chalk pastels with your pupils, is it easier to do broad areas of colour than detailed areas?  Explore ideas around how Liotard created all the intricate detail with this medium.
<empty> Discuss with the group the idea that portraiture can be used to promote the power of an individual or it can be used to show others ordinary day-to-day life. Try discussing the idea that everything in a picture is there for a reason and that the artists will include small details as clues to what the person is like in real life.
Jean-Etienne Liotard, Portrait of a Woman called Lady Fawkener, circa 1760
Materials and technique: Pastel on vellum
Dimensions: 73.6 x 58.8 cm
Compton Verney: CVCSC:0288.B
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