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Jean Etienne Liotard

(1702–1789, Geneva)

Half-length Portrait of Prince Henry of Wales, Duke of Cumberland. Etching and engraving. 40.2 x 30.8 cm. Circa 1755.

This bright young boy looks at the beholder with an astonishingly alert and self-confident gaze. The finely chiselled features under the lightweight wig are indicative of noble birth, and the large childlike eyes testify to intelligence and a lively nature. The subject is Prince Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, at the age of ten. The house of cards on the table to the right is a subtle reference to his tender years, as otherwise the wide-awake young boy in his elegant, lace-trimmed coat would look like a small grown-up. The pastel portrait by Liotard that served as the model and is now in Windsor Castle is one of his most charming child portraits, and the etching brilliantly reveals the graphic refinement of the artist and his truly masterly psychological insight. The print was made under Liotard’s direct supervision. The highly sophisticated etching technique with its multitude of delicate, dense and original hatching patterns and the effective use of light show that Liotard must have played a major part in the production of the print. The mild play of light on the house of cards, the smooth face of the child and the lace trimmings of his clothing are beautifully rendered. The costume is not shown in intricate detail, but in bold outline. The bright patches produced by the white paper contrast with close parallel hatchings and casually executed broken lines which from a distance create a delightful suggestion of materiality.

Although Liotard is supposed to have earned the very considerable sum of 30,000 livres a year during his Paris period, he nevertheless felt the need to terminate his stay and head for pastures new after spending eight years in the city. The rivalry of the Parisian art circles and his rejection by the Académie Royale must have made this step easier for him. In 1753, Liotard moved to London, where he was held in high esteem by English connoisseurs and collectors such as Horace Walpole, although he did presented to King George II and his Consort.not succeed in being He found more worthy recognition at the court of Augusta, Princess of Wales and widow of the eldest son of the monarch, where a freer and more artistic spirit prevailed. Visible proof of this is provided by the pastel portraits that Liotard produced of the Princess and her large brood of children, whose remarkable spontaneity and lifelike quality testify to a less rigid protocol. This wonderfully lively portrait of Prince Henry belongs to this cycle. Directly after his arrival in England Liotard, ever the efficient businessman, sought contacts with local print publishers in order to gain custom for his art by means of reproductive prints. The inscription on the print proudly tells us that the etching was made “according to the Directions of the Author” and sold by him at two London addresses. This was not just a way of attracting potential clients; the publication of prints after his own works also meant an additional source of income. But as the print is very rare, the effective edition and hence the actual financial success cannot have been great (see Duncan Bull, Jean- Etienne Liotard (1702–1789), Rijksmuseum Dossiers, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 27–28).

A superb, sharp and crisp impression, printing with remarkable contrasts. With margins around the platemark. Two unobtrusive printer’s creases on the lower part of the portrait, minimal traces of handling, otherwise in perfect condition.

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