1702 GENEVA - 1789
Canvas, 60 x 49,5 cm
This very fine portrait depicts Gaspard de Péleran, the French Consul in Aleppo (1772-1730) and later in Smyrna (1731-1747) where he died in 1747. Jean-Étienne Liotard arrived in Smyrna in May of 1738 and met there the Consul Mr. Péleran and his wife, who both sat for him. The two existing beautifully executed drawings of the couple are now preserved at the Louvre (Department des Arts Graphiques), see figures 1 and 2.
While in the two works on paper, the sitters are depicted in traditional French dress, the Consul in the present oil painting is wearing a striking oriental green silk brocade gilet and dress. We know that the artist Liotard was particularly interested and sensitive to unusual and rich fabrics. In commissions like this one, the artist combined compelling likenesses of the model with his obsessive interest in details of clothes, recording astonishing veracity details of fur, silk and lace. Later on Liotard even collected rare fabrics for his portraits in Europe to add them as an exquisite decoration. As his portraits often exhibit a quasi-scientific clarity of observation, it is more suggestive to look at the enlightenment of curiosity than of the rococo artifice. Liotard chiefly expanded his studies to the world of interiors and fabrics, where figures recline on divans. In many of his portraits of diplomats and nobel sitter the intriguing and complex interaction between west and east is particularly visible through dresses, furnishings and customs.
„Liotard’s court art was of a very particular type; in an age of magnificence, when portraiture was usually used to be public and propagandist, the artist offered an altogether more intimate and quiet service, creating small works of radical honesty, sometimes stripped of any of the trappings or attributes of state. They were highly valued by his clients and displayed in private spaces as well as being taken on journeys.“
Mr. Péleran himself, as the husband of the daughter of a French merchant in Smyrna, would also have been perceptive to this details and keen to showing the rich textiles he was able to afford. Depicted is a standing diplomat, who was well aware of France’s position in the trade of goods between Smyrna and France, particularly with Marseille. Cotton, mohair yarn and silk were the main exports from Smyrna. As a matter of fact cotton was produced within a day’s caravan journey of Smyrna. It was not a significant export of Smyrna to Marseilles until around 1715. But in the second half of the century it became the single most export of Smyrna and contributed to the city’s commercial take off. Demand for it was high among the textile manufacturers in the south of France, in Britain and in other European countries.
Opposed to the formal and traditional portraits we see in the works on paper, the present portrait is more natural and intimate. The thoughtful yet formal pose, with eyes looking at the viewer, conveys a calm authority. This is a typical work a Consul would have commissioned for himself. The gaze, the slightly tilted head, the smile and the light in the sitter’s eye are typical of Jean-Etienne Liotard’s hand.
We are grateful to Professor Marcel Roethlisberger for confirming the attribution.
Private Collection France
A. De Herdt, Dessins de Liotard, exh. Cat. 1992, Geneva and Paris, pp. 48-51
Works in Museums and Public Collections:
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
British Museum, London
Uffizi Gallery, Florenz
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Dresden Gallery, Dresden
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Museum Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur
National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Fig.1 : Portrait of Gaspard de Péleran seated on a sofa,
black and red chalk, 21.4 x 17.6 cm, May 1738, Musee du Louvre, Paris
Fig.2: Portrait of Mrs Gaspard de Péleran, black and red chalk, 21.4 x 12.9 cm, May 1738, Musee du Louvre, Paris