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The most beautiful pastel ever seen: The Chocolate Girl by Jean-Étienne Liotard is focus of exhibition
Jean-Étienne Liotard, La Belle Chocolatière, circa 1744, pastel on parchment, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister © SKD, photo: Herbert Boswank.

DRESDEN.- La Belle Chocolatière or The Chocolate Girl by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789) is one of the central works held at Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. The art dealer Count Francesco Algarotti acquired it directly from the artist for the collection of King August III in Venice in 1745. From 28 September 2018 to 6 January 2019, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden is dedicating an exhibition to the famous pastel.

For the first time, the acclaimed work can be experienced as a part of Liotard’s oeuvre through an exhibition of more than 100 works. Serving as examples, they provide insights into the artist’s diverse practice, which alone accounts for around forty of the pastels, oil paintings, drawings and graphic works that are shown here. In addition, the Swiss citizen Liotard is introduced as a person, a man who, inspired by his travels in the Ottoman Empire and the Principality of Moldavia, staged himself as a “Turkish painter”, wearing a long beard and a fur cap. In 1743, he travelled to Vienna to be at the court of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and later Empress of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, whom he portrayed multiple times, including in Turkish costumes.

The Chocolate Girl as well was created in Vienna around 1744. Larger than most of his works, the fragile pastel received a valuable, specially sculpted frame. It shows the full-figure depiction of an anonymous maid in profile. She wears a dress with an ochre corsage and a white apron over a grey skirt. Her hair is covered with a rose-coloured silk bonnet. In her hands she holds a small lacquer tray with a glass of water and a cup of hot chocolate. Expensive and exotic, the luxury drink was very popular during the eighteenth century, especially at the European courts. Its status of exclusivity was expressed not least of all in the valuable porcelain dishes and the silver and gold saucers used to serve the drink.

In the Pastel Cabinet of King August III, the depiction of a simple maid must have stood in a powerful contrast with other portraits, with allegories and muses. With his keen observation, Liotard anticipated both the art of the Enlightenment and nineteenth-century realism. Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757), likely the most acclaimed pastel painter, described it as “the most beautiful pastel ever seen”.

Not so much the many copies of the work that were done in oil and pastel soon after its creation, but the many graphic and photographic reproductions that were made of it led to its wide circulation and an international public response. Moreover, The Chocolate Girl became an extremely popular motif in folk art and in advertising starting in the nineteenth century, a chapter in the story of the pastel which is likewise included in the exhibition.

At the exhibition, two media stations provide information about Liotard’s many travels in Europe and about the technique of pastel painting, which is illustrated using scientific findings from the painting itself. With the help of the traditional Paris manufactory La Maison du Pastel, the production of pastels is demonstrated as well. There is extensive public programming for this exhibition, ranging from painting and producing pastel sticks (in cooperation with the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden) to a lecture series organised with the Volkshochschule Dresden to various children’s events and chocolate workshops as well as themed tours of the exhibition.

Complementing the presentation are approximately forty loaned works from large international collections, including the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Liotard’s hometown of Geneva, the Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the British Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Doorn Manor near Utrecht, the Schokoladenmuseum Köln, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, as well as works from private collections and from ten museums belonging to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). These works provide insight into the art of Liotard and into the collecting history of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie during the eighteenth century.

A catalogue published by Hirmer Verlag will be coming out in conjunction with the exhibition. It focusses on the famous work by Jean-Étienne Liotard; ca. 272 pages, ca. 175 colour illustrations, ISBN: 978-3-7774-3134-5, retail price: ca. € 34,90.

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