Jean-Etienne Liotard and a 20-year breakfast


Jean-Etienne Liotard and a 20-year breakfast

From 16 November 2023 to 3 March 2024, the National Gallery of London presents “Discover Liotard’s ‘The Lavergne Family Breakfast’”, an exhibition that reunites the pastel masterpiece by Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702–1789), painted in Lyon in 1754, with the painted version in oil he completed in London almost 20 years later.

Source: The National Gallery · Image: Jean-Etienne Liotard, ‘The Lavergne Family Breakfast’, 1754

The exhibition will introduce viewers to the delicate medium of pastel, showcasing both the raw materials and a selection of Liotard’s highly finished works in pastel. The reunion of the pastel and oil works by Liotard will also allow visitors to appreciate and compare the different techniques and effects of both mediums.

Long regarded as his masterpiece both by art historians and by Liotard himself, The Lavergne Family Breakfast entered the National Gallery’s collection in 2019 from the estate of George Pinto (1929–2018), art collector and patron of the Gallery, under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme. Last exhibited when Liotard brought the pastel from Lyon to London in 1754, it had not been seen in public since.

Executed across more than nine sheets of paper, ‘The Lavergne Family Breakfast’ is Liotard’s largest and most ambitious pastel. It depicts a breakfast between an elegantly dressed woman and a young girl, whose hair is still in paper curlers. Between the two lies a luxurious breakfast still life. Although not strictly a portrait, the sitters have long been associated with relatives of Liotard’s, the Lavergne family, who lived in Lyon.

The exhibition will also focus on Liotard’s place within the 18th-century. Liotard travelled widely, crossing Europe several times throughout his career. He spent four formative years in Constantinople, after which he donned Turkish clothes, grew a knee-length beard and presented himself as ‘the Turkish painter’. A group of black and red chalk drawings made on his travels will illustrate these journeys, while a selection of self portraits in different media will bring this quirkiest of 18th-century artists to life. Alongside Liotard’s own travels, the journeys implicit in the enjoyment of coffee, sugar and Japanese porcelain seen in the picture will also be examined.

Exploring the pastel medium, Liotard’s itinerant career, and the stories behind the objects he depicts, this exhibition seeks to put Liotard and The Lavergne Family Breakfast in the spotlight.