12. Horace Walpole and His Collection of Miniatures by Jean-Étienne Liotard

Horace Walpole and His Collection of Miniatures by Jean-Étienne Liotard

by Christine Rheo Brandner
PhD student, History of Art, Yale University

LWL Liotard self portrait miniature recto       LWL Liotard self portrait miniature verso

Jean-Étienne Liotard, Self-Portrait, c. 1765-67. Gouache on vellum, in a black wooden frame, 4.1 x 3.8 cm. Lewis Walpole Library, lwlpr33241a+b.
Roethlisberger and Loche, no. 445, ill. 656.

Among its many treasures, the Lewis Walpole Library houses a minute self-portrait of the Swiss artist Jean–Étienne Liotard (1702–1789) in gouache on vellum. The miniature originally belonged to Horace Walpole and was acquired by W.S. Lewis in 1954. The simple wooden frame was sealed on the reverse side with paper backing carrying an inscription in Walpole’s hand: “Liotard / by / Himself. / A / legacy / to/ Mr Horace Walpole / from Mrs M. Delany / 1788.” A later hand then added the following lines around the edges: “Purchased for me by Mr. Forster at Strawberry Hill. 10th May 1842. R. R. Preston.” The object underwent conservation in 2012; the paper backing was carefully removed and the glass and frame cleaned. The painting now appears wonderfully fresh and pristine.

Jean-Étienne Liotard, who is little known today, was famous throughout Europe during his lifetime for his exotic appearance. Born in Geneva and originally trained in Paris as a miniature painter, Liotard’s fortunes took a decisive turn in 1738 when he accepted an invitation by a group of English gentlemen, among them the Hon. William Ponsonby (Viscount Duncannon and later 2nd Earl of Bessborough) and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, to accompany them on their grand tour to Constantinople. The young tourists eventually returned home, but Liotard decided to stay on and attached himself to the household of the British ambassador to the Sublime Porte Everard Fawkener. He soon became the favorite portrait painter for expatriate communities in the Ottoman capital. Liotard’s work included black and red chalk drawings on paper recording intimate scenes of Europeans in oriental dress, who adopted the customs of their host country by sitting cross legged on cushions and drinking coffee, as well as more imposing paintings, such as a life size oil portrait of Richard Pococke, pioneer archaeologist of the Middle East.

European travelers to the Levant commonly adopted local costumes, including caftans and turbans, but upon returning to Europe, they shaved their beards and shed their oriental dress. (Gullström et al., 187.) Not so Liotard, who had taken a liking to the loose Turkish garments and continued to wear them throughout the rest of his life. In 1743, when the artist arrived in Vienna, he caused an immediate sensation with his oriental robes, large fur hat, and the long beard he had grown according to local custom while in Moldova at the court of prince Constantin Mavrocordato. He attracted the attention of Empress Maria-Theresa and soon received prestigious commissions at the imperial court.

In 1748, Liotard traveled on to Paris where he exhibited his beard and costume at the opera in order to stimulate interest in his person, and thus to enhance his business as a portraitist. In fact, some of Liotard’s critics claimed that his success depended entirely on his sartorial performance rather than on his talents as a painter. Madame Pompadour, royal mistress and powerful patron of the arts, commissioned Liotard to paint her but was less than pleased with the artist’s unflattering depiction. According to J.A. Dulaure, author of a treatise on the history of facial hair, the marquise curtly rejected Liotard’s portrait with the words: “Votre barbe fait tout votre mérite.” (Roethlisberger and Loche, Sources, 102.) While the anecdote most likely belongs to the realm of fantasy, Liotard’s self–staging as peintre turc continued to create excitement wherever he went.

In 1753, Horace Walpole described Liotard’s arrival in England in a letter to Horace Mann, pointing out the artist’s exotic looks: “From having lived in Constantinople he wears a Turkish habit and a beard down to his girdle: this and his extravagant prices, which he has raised even beyond what he asked at Paris, will probably get him as much money as he covets for he is avaricious beyond imagination.” (Walpole, Correspondence, 20:362.) It was no coincidence that Walpole should take notice of the artist’s debut in London in 1753, for the association between the two men had begun the previous year, when Walpole commissioned two portraits from the artist while he was still working in Paris. Charles Churchill, Walpole’s brother-in-law, acted as an intermediary in the complex negotiations between Liotard and two of Walpole’s favorite French dramatists, Crébillon the Younger and Pierre de Marivaux. Both agreed to sit for Liotard, but in the end Crébillon refused to give up his portrait to Walpole unless he received a copy of the original. (Walpole, Correspondence, 20:324f.) Faced with the doubling of the already exorbitant fee of sixteen guineas demanded by Liotard for his work, Walpole grudgingly admitted defeat. The miniature of Marivaux, however, was personally delivered to Walpole by Liotard and safely deposited in the cabinet of rosewood that contained his collection of enamels and miniatures. (Walpole, Description, 56.) The miniature is lost today, but Walpole recounted the story of its delivery to Horace Mann, giving particular attention to his first impression of the portrait: “Marivaux’s picture […] gives one a very different idea from what one conceives of the author of Marianne, though it is reckoned extremely like: the countenance is a mixture of buffoon and villain.” (Walpole, Correspondence, 20:362.) This short description opens a small window into Walpole’s use of such miniatures; he apparently submitted them to close inspection in order to draw conclusions about the character of the models based on their physiognomic features.

His cabinet also contained a miniature of “Liotard the painter, in Turkish dress, in enamel, by himself; given to Mr. Walpole by his sister Lady Mary Churchill.” (Walpole Description, 60.) In a watercolor of the cabinet by John Carter, the miniature can be seen on the inside of the right door.

The Cabinet of Miniatures and Enamels [John Carter] (in Folio 33 30 copy 11)

John Carter, Disposition of the Miniatures in the Rosewood Cabinet in the Tribune, n.d. Watercolor, 32.6 x 27.5 cm, mounted. Lewis Walpole Library, LWL folio 33 30, copy 11, on fol. 161r.

It is unclear when the gift was made, but it is conceivable that Lady Mary purchased the miniature shortly after Liotard’s arrival in London. The enamel is inscribed on the back, identifying the artist and the date of creation: ‘‘Liotard / by Himself / 1753.’’ The portrait displays the exquisite finish Liotard was famous for, showing the artist in an oriental caftan of bright red silk, a white undergarment with embroidered flowers, wearing his usual red cap and sporting his trademark beard.

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/421436/a-self-portrait

Jean-Étienne Liotard, Self-Portrait in Profile, 1753. Enamel, 6.1 x 4.6 cm. The Royal Collection, London, RCIN 421436. Roethlisberger and Loche, no. 262, ill. 391.

Miniature portraits were composite artifacts that were manufactured from a variety of materials such as diamonds and other precious stones; many were encased in a locket to enhance tactility and control visibility. Walpole’s rosewood cabinet was itself a hybrid object, not only because it emulated the precious setting of the miniatures it sheltered, but also because it housed his portraits of famous men, valued for the moral example they embodied, together with objects of sentimental value for the owner. Walpole’s description of the cabinet lists miniature portraits of his siblings and parents among the pieces on display, including “two lockets in the shape of hearts, with hair of Sir Robert Walpole and Catherine Shorter, set with diamonds.” (Walpole, Description, 57.)

Enamel miniatures were intimate objects that could be held in one’s hands, and they were often worn on the body of their owners as jewelry. (Pointon, Miniature Portraits.) In order to facilitate the affective engagement with the depicted individual, the sitters were often represented en face so as to directly address the beholder. While the practice of the private exchange of miniatures and their visual display on the body continued throughout the eighteenth century, these small portraits were beginning to be cherished by collectors for their aesthetic rather than sentimental value. Unlike miniature objects of intense private significance, Liotard’s Self–Portrait of 1753 does not invite a passionate engagement or emotional reaction from the beholder. The stark profile standing out against a gleaming white background presents the artist as an object for the viewer’s detached reflection on the character and the merits of the sitter. Liotard’s features are foregrounded by a detailed depiction chosen to instill heightened interest in his exoticism. However, the exquisite finish of the enamel self–portrait also speaks to the technical ability of the artist and displays his skills and talent.

Today Liotard is best known for his larger portraits in pastel, but in the eighteenth century he was a celebrated miniaturist who employed a variety of techniques available at the time. Apart from enamel, Liotard also mastered the technique of gouache on vellum. His small self–portrait in the Lewis Walpole Library is painted in this traditional method that originally emerged from the workshops of book illuminators in the early sixteenth century; the English miniaturists Nicholas Hilliard (1547–1619), and Peter Oliver (ca. 1594–1647) were pioneers of this genre. In contrast to the polished appearance of enamel work, vellum gives a velvety finish more akin to Liotard’s preferred medium of pastel. In the Lewis Walpole Library self-portrait, a minute sheet of vellum measuring only 4.1 by 3.8 centimeters sits in a deep wooden frame and is protected by glass. The square shape of the object, despite its small dimensions, is thus reminiscent of the common format of a large size portrait. The artist shows himself with his distinct red bonnet, a loose blue caftan, and a yellow undershirt in keeping with his usual Turkish attire. The white ruffled collar, however, is part of the traditional dress of his hometown of Geneva. The most striking feature of the painting is denoted by its absence — Liotard portrays himself without a beard, a detail duly noted by Walpole in his Description: “In the glass case near the window: A small head in water–colours of Liotard, without his beard, by himself; a legacy from Mrs. Delany.” (Walpole Description, 94.) According to this entry, the miniature was in Walpole’s possession as early as 1784 when the Description was published. The statement on the back of the frame, however, mentions the year 1788, the date of Mary Delany’s death. It is therefore likely that Walpole only added the inscription to memorialize his dear friend after her passing.

The style of the miniature and the artist’s appearance closely correspond to a series of self–portraits painted around 1768 while Liotard was stationed at Geneva. (Roethlisberger and Loche, Sources, no. 440-444, ill. 647-651.) The most notable difference to the full size Geneva portraits, which represent the artist directly looking at the beholder, is the miniature’s profile view of the head. Just like the enamel in Walpole’s possession, the vellum portrait invites close observation of the artist’s distinctive features. In contrast to the enamel miniature with its convex surface extending towards the viewer, however, Liotard’s watercolor portrait produces a sense of distance even if studied in close proximity. Paradoxically, it is precisely this fundamental and insurmountable distance that produces an immediate effect of presence. The miniature offers a surprising experience for beholders who, in fact, loose all sense of scale, drawn in by the exquisitely rendered details of the face. Despite its minute size, it gives a lively impression of the artist’s character, the slight smile playing around his lips hinting at a stoic disposition obtained by a life of adventurous experiences. Liotard’s eye, focused on a distant object, speaks of a professional ethos that aims at representing nature as closely as possible.

It is quite conceivable, considering Liotard’s business acumen, that he painted a number of such small-scale self–portraits to have them available for his clients, many of whom would have cherished a likeness of the famous peintre turc. Mrs. Delany, the original owner of the miniature, described a visit to Liotard’s studio in 1772, in a letter dated April 11: “Here is Miss Foley come to carry me off to Lestart’s [sic], where she is to sit for her picture. Just returned, not quite satisfied. The picture is like, but not favourably so; another sitting I hope will improve it. Lestart is a great artist in his way, but not a portrait painter, in my poor opinion.” (Paston, Memoir, 208.) In her will from Februrary 22, 1778, Mrs. Delany bequeathed another of Liotard’s self–portraits to her friend and benefactor the Duchess of Portland, this one a pastel of apparently bigger dimensions because it was kept in a “large square shagreen case.” (Ibid., 483.) Surprisingly, despite her low opinion of Liotard as a portraitist, Mary Delany nevertheless possessed at least two of his self–portraits.

Walpole’s own assessment of Liotard’s merits as a portraitist shows a similar ambivalence towards the artist’s works. On the one hand Walpole clearly cherished and collected Liotard’s portraits for their detailed depiction of the sitters, but on the other hand he deemed them stiff and ‘‘too like to please those who sat to him.” (Walpole Anecdotes, vol. 4, 195.) The miniature self–portrait at the Lewis Walpole Library seems to confirm Walpole’s opinion: it shows the artist represented with unflinching realism, without an attempt to idealize or improve the features of his face according to preconceived notions of artistic greatness and male pride. It is the humble representation of an artist whose life and work continue to fascinate us today because he defied the norms of social conduct and artistic style of his time with an independence of mind that marks him as a figure of the Enlightenment, as well as of modernity.

Bibliography:

Coombs, Katherine, “Horace Walpole and the Collecting of Miniatures”, in Snodin, Michael, and Cynthia Roman (eds.), Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, 182-199. Exhibition organized by the Lewis Walpole Library, the Yale Center for British Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. On view at the Yale Center for British Art from 15 Oct. 2009 – 3 Jan. 2010, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 6 March – 4 July 2010. (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 2010).

Gullström Beatrice, et al. (eds.), Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), Exhibition organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the National Galleries of Scotland. On view at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh 4 July – 13 Sept. 2015, and at the Royal Academy, London 24 Oct. 2015 – 31 Jan. 2016. (London: The Royal Academy, 2015).

Lewis, W. S. (ed.). The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, 48 vols.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937–83.

Paston, George, Mrs. Delany (Mary Granville, A Memoir 1700-1788. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. (London: Grant Richards, 1900).

Pointon Marcia, “‘Surrounded with Brilliants’: Miniature Portraits in Eighteenth-Century England”, in The Art Bulletin, vol. 83, no. 1 (March 2001), 48–71.

Roethlisberger, Marcel and Rene Loche, Liotard: Catalogue sources et cor- respondance, avec la collaboration de Bodo Hofstetter et de Hans Boeckh pour les miniatures. 2. vols. (Doornspijk: Davaco Publishers, 2008).

Walpole, Horace, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole, Youngest Son of
Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford, at Strawberry-Hill Near Twickenham, Middlesex. With an Inventory of the Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, &c. (Strawberry-Hill: Printed by Thomas Kirgate, 1774).

Walpole Horace, Anecdotes of Painting in England, vol. 4. (London: J. Dodsley, 1782).

11. Designs by Mr. R. Bentley, for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray

Choice 6: Bentley’s Designs for Gray’s Poems

             

By Wilmarth S. Lewis

“‘Short Notes’ records, ‘This year [1753] published a fine edition of poems by Mr T. Gray with prints from designs by Mr R. Bentley.’ He might have added that the fine edition had an ‘Explanation of the Prints’ by himself. A sample is:

“Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat,

Frontispiece.

 “The cat standing on the brim of the tub, and endeavouring to catch a gold fish. Two cariatides of a river god stopping his hears to her cries, and Destiny cutting the nine threads of life, are on each side. Above, is a cat’s head between two expiring lamps, and over that, two mouse-traps, between an mandarin-cat sitting before a Chinese pagoda, and angling for gold fish into a china jar; and another cat drawing up a net. At the bottom are mice enjoying themselves on the prospect of the cat’s death; a lyre and pallet.

“Walpole published the book through Robert Dodsley in London to help his two friends. In the absence of his correspondence with Dodsley about the book we don’t know the terms of its publication apart from Dodsley’s payment of £42 to Gray for the copyright of his poems. Designs of Mr R Bentley for Six Poems by Mr T. Gray finally appeared in 1753, a royal quarto of thirty-six pages so cut that it looks like a small folio. The price was high, half a guinea, the equivalent today of what–fifty dollars? Dr. Johnson in his chapter on Gray in Lives of the Poets annoyed the poet and his friends by saying that the poems were printed on one side of each leaf ‘That they might in some form or other make out a book,’ but Bentley’s Designs went through three editions in 1753 and four more from 1765 to 1789. In our own day it has been hailed as a landmark of English book illustration by Osbert Sitwell and Kenneth Clark who called it ‘the most graceful monument to the Gothic Rococo.’

“Both Bentley’s original drawings and Walpole’s copy of the printed book are at Farmington. I am saving the book of drawings. Walpole noted in it. ‘These are the original drawings by Mr Bentley from which Grignion and Müller engraved the plates. Hor. Walpole.’ He pasted the drawings where the prints were to be. His usual binding was plain calf, but he had this book bound in red morocco with elaborate gilt tooling, a beautiful book. William Beckford paid eight guineas for it in the Strawberry Hill sale through his bookseller, Bohn, as we know from their correspondence about the sale at Farmington. Bohn reported that the drawings are so like engravings he had to look pretty carefully to satisfy himself that they are not engravings, an uncertainty shared by all then and since. After the Beckford Sale in 1882 they went to the ardent Walpolian Laurence Currie and came to me from Maggs in 1933.

“The publication of the Designs did not proceed smoothly. Gray objected to numbering the stanzas and the numbers were removed; he insisted that ‘Mr’ be put before his and Bentley’s names for fear that their omission would make him appear as ‘a classic.’ Walpole saw no ‘affectation in leaving out the Mr before your names; it is a barbarous addition. . . . Without ranging myself among classics, I assure you, were I to print anything with my name, it should be plain Horace Walpole; Mr is one of the Gothicisms I abominate,’ but Gray insisted on having it. Although he disliked Walpole’s ‘Explanation of the Prints,’ he conceded, ‘If you think it necessary to print these explanations for the use of people that have no eyes, I could be glad they were a little altered.’ Gray, always the candid friend with Walpole, wrote that he, Gray, would ‘revise the press, for you know you can’t.’ He became seriously alarmed when Dodsley, to make the book look more for its money, had Eccardt’s portrait of Gray at Strawberry Hill engraved for the frontispiece. On hearing this the poet wrote Walpole, ‘Sure you are out of your wits! this I know, if you suffer my head to be printed, you infallibly will put me out of mine. I conjure you immediately to put a stop to any such design. Who is at the expense of engraving it I know not, but if it be Dodsley, I will make up the loss to him. The thing as it was, I know, will make me ridiculous enough, but to appear in proper person at the head of my works, consisting of half a dozen ballads in thirty pages, would be worse than the pillory. I do assure you, if I had received such a frontispiece without any warning, I believe it would have given me a palsy.’ The print appears in only a few copies, including Walpole’s own. He lettered ‘Thomas Gray’ neatly on it and below the print, ‘Eccardt pinx, Müller Inv. In the collection of Mr H. Walpole.’

“With the removal of Gray’s portrait the frontispiece became Bentley’s illustration for the ‘Elegy’ that shows the poet musing by the babbling brook. There has been some speculation on the poet’s identity, whether he was Gray, Richard West, or just anybody. Comparison of Bentley’s original drawing with Müller’s print of it shows that the musing figure was originally Gray, adenoids and all, and that Müller’s figure, in compliance with Gray’s wishes, is nobody in particular. Walpole’s annotations in his printed copy of the book point out Gray’s indebtedness in the poems to Richard III, As You Like It, La Bruyère, and the Spectator. Walpole also noted that the Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes belonged to himself and that the authority for Chancellor Hatton’s dancing in ‘A Long Story’ is found in Anthony Bacon’s papers, vol. I, p. 56. Walpole bound in an excellent sketch by Gray of Stoke House in A Long Story opposite Bentley’s drawing of it and when we put these two drawings beside Grignion’s engraving of Bentley’s drawing we have Stoke House from start to finish.”

Lewis continues the chapter by discussing the friendship between Gray and Walpole, including their experiences during their Grand Tour travels and afterwards, and their quarrels and reconciliations. He notes, “Bentley’s Designs for Gray’s Poemswas inspired by Walpole’s eagerness to help his friends who he believed were geniuses.”

Lewis, Wilmarth S. Rescuing Horace Walpole. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978.

To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called Choice 6: Bentley’s Designs for Gray’s Poems download or expand the link here:

10. Doutes Historiques sur la Vie et le Regne de Richard III

King Louis XVI’s Translation of Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts

 

by Loftus Jestin, Professor Emeritus of English, Central Connecticut State University

Among the curious artifacts at the Lewis Walpole Library, one of the truly rare and startling manuscripts is Louis XVI’s translation of Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

The original publication in 1768 of Horace Walpole’s attempt to exonerate the reputation of Richard III caused quite a stir. The book generated much controversy with rebuttals and vilifications by such luminaries as Hume and Gibbon, many of which Walpole answered tartly over the next twenty years or so. William Cole and Thomas Gray affirmed Walpole’s argument, as, in fact, did Voltaire. The execution of the French king on January 21st, 1793, so upset Walpole that he wrote an angry, vituperative letter eight days later of nearly a thousand words to Lady Ossory, in which he could find no terms sufficiently strong to describe the murderers: “It remained for the enlightened eighteenth century to baffle language and invent horrors that can be found in no vocabulary” [Corres., p. 177, vol. 34, 1965]. The death of this “best-natured and most inoffensive of men” [p. 176], not to forget his reputation, which was so thoroughly traduced by the revolutionary mob, seemed to him a parallel to, if not a vindication of, his assertion in Historic Doubts that Richard III was maligned and his name thoroughly blackened by Lancastrian and Tudor propagandists.

It would have heartened Walpole had he known of the French king’s translation of the book before he died in 1797. Apparently, having been purloined by the mob from the king’s cell at the Tuileries, the manuscript escaped destruction and ended up in the hands of the publisher Roussel d’Epinol, who printed it at his shop in Paris in 1800. The manuscript was then purchased by Louise Comtesse de Ponthon, who married Henry Seymour; it descended down the generations of the Seymour family until its sale in 1949 at Sotheby’s to Dr. James Hasson of Berkshire for £300, who then sold it through Maggs Bros. Ltd. in 1950 to Wilmarth S. Lewis for £350. The manuscript remains in the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut.

It appears from the manuscript that the king wrote out his translation in an already bound notebook of 82 octavo-sized pages, rather than on loose sheets. Written in a tiny and very neat cursive hand over each side of each leaf, the script forms a continuous, uninterrupted flow, albeit in a slightly cramped hand. There are many cross outs and corrections, especially in the early part of the text, but with far fewer emendations in the latter half, suggestive of a greater confidence, or perhaps, more alarmingly, of the need for speed, given the king’s awareness of his approaching doom.

Many years ago, Mr. Lewis told me the following anecdote, which I have not been able to confirm. Not long after his purchase of the manuscript, authorities at the Bibliothèque nationale informed him that his manuscript was only a copy of the original, which was housed there in Paris. “Not at all,” Mr. Lewis rebutted. “You have the copy. The original manuscript in the king’s hand is here in Farmington. Come and see it for yourself!” No doubt annoyed by this pesky American millionaire, the French national library sent two experts to examine the manuscript. “Quite supercilious they were, too!” Lewis testified, until they held his copy in hand, whereupon one of the men had to sit down, quite faint.  There was no question who had the original, and who the copy.

Twenty years ago or so, I used to take my graduate students on a field trip to the Lewis Walpole library to look at some the rare books there, books they had read in modern editions for my seminar on eighteenth-century literature. Pope’s own copy of Homer’s Odyssey with his pencil drawing of his grotto at his house in Twickenham on the inside of the back cover, volumes of the original publications of many seventeenth and eighteenth-century plays, Bentley’s hand-drawn illustrations for Gray’s poems, the second folio of Shakespeare’s plays, and other such treasures. When I opened for them the slip case holding Louis XVI’s manuscript translation of Historic Doubts, many of the students gasped and looked at each other bug-eyed with a wild surprise, having never seen such an astonishing rarity before.