Two Views of a Family Breakfast

LONDON — The Nationwide Gallery has introduced collectively an oil portray and pastel model of the identical composition, often called “The Lavergne Family Breakfast,” by Genovese-born artist Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702–1789) — the previous unseen within the UK for greater than 100 years — in a aspect by aspect comparability for the primary time in 250 years. Pastel is rarer in artwork than oil paint, and thus comparatively unsung in artwork historical past. This exhibition is a unprecedented alternative to match variations in utility, tone, and bodily composition between the mediums, and observe how these have an effect on the general really feel of every piece, and by extension its figures. 

Oil paint, which makes up the overwhelming majority of artwork historic portray, is sturdy and “fastened,” or set, when dry on canvas or different helps. Its translucency permits artists to mannequin their topics in layers and evoke depth, reaching a wealthy and luminous end. Pastel by comparability is a pigment suspended in a pale chalky filler and binding medium, rolled by hand into crayon and utilized on to vellum or paper. Definitely earlier than fashionable fixatives have been invented, the picture was “unfixed,” and thus extremely fragile; consider it as a portray that by no means dries (and consider the implications for transporting or displaying and, crucially, conserving such work). 

It’s doubtless that each one guests can visualize the appliance of paint by brush, however fewer will probably be conversant in the method of “portray” with pastel. Dr. Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, the curator, begins the exhibition with samples of pastel crayons relationship from c. 1910s in Paris, and explains how the bottom needed to be rubbed with pumice or razor blades to roughen the floor for the pigment particles to cling (an interesting video demonstrates the method).

Liotard specialised in pastel portraits, extra of that are displayed right here. The pastel “Lavergne Household Breakfast” (1754), a pleasant composition exhibiting his niece watch her personal niece dip a bit of bread into milky espresso, was bought by his most important patron, William Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, for the massive sum of 200 guineas. Twenty years later Liotard recreated it from a tracing in oil, and it’s astonishing to see how shut the 2 variations are; pastel constructed up into excessive impasto for sure catch-lights within the jugs are equally raised within the oil model.

A crisper remedy within the oil, with increased distinction, is instantly obvious, particularly within the shadow solid by the left determine over the center floor. But this distinction makes the oil figures’ expressions barely more durable, lips extra pursed, than these of the softer pastel figures. Pastel comes “pre-mixed” in crayons, whereas Liotard presumably needed to combine and match exactly every oil coloration; viewers will discover slight tonal variations in some areas. Shut trying on the surfaces additionally reveal craquelure webbing over the hardened oil, in addition to the tough, virtually grainy texture of the paper floor. 

The longer viewers look backward and forward at every bit, the extra minute particulars and textures they’ll discover, and the extra the basic variations between these mediums will emerge. Photographic replica loses essential levels of subtlety. There isn’t any higher argument for viewing artworks in individual than exhibitions corresponding to this.

Set up view of the oil portray (left) and pastel (proper) (picture Olivia McEwan/Hyperallergic)
Set up view picturing pastels in Uncover Liotard and the Lavergne Household Breakfast on the Nationwide Gallery, London (picture Olivia McEwan/Hyperallergic)

Discover Liotard and the Lavergne Family Breakfast continues on the Nationwide Gallery (Trafalgar Sq., London, England) by means of March 3. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Francesca Whitlum-Cooper.

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