This exhibition focuses on one of the most famous works in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, The Chocolate Girl by the Genevan artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789). Liotard enjoyed great success and was highly acclaimed as a pastel painter in his own day; even the most famous artist working in this medium at the time, Rosalba Carriera, declared The Chocolate Girl to be “the most beautiful pastel ever seen”.
It was thanks to the art dealer Algarotti, who purchased the “Chocolatière” directly from the artist for the Dresden Pastellkabinett in 1745, that the Gallery began to show works by contemporary artists. The pastel medium suited the Rococo taste for lifelike, brilliant portraits: Liotard created flawless, porcelain-smooth surfaces. The enormous popularity of the picture, however, also rests on the fact that it depicts a simple, unidentified housemaid, a hitherto rare motif.
The “Chocolatière” is serving an unidentified lady with a breakfast beverage – a cup of hot cocoa. This costly, exotic commodity became extremely fashionable as a luxury drink at the courts of Europe in the 18th century. Its exclusivity was conveyed, among other things, through the expensive porcelain cups, standing on silver or gold saucers, in which the drink was served. With his precise observation, Liotard anticipated not only the art of the Enlightenment but also 19th-century realism.
Both the numerous copies produced in pastel or oil from the 18th century onwards and the countless later prints and photographic reproductions of this image have contributed to its widespread popularity and international reception. In the 19th century The Chocolate Girl also became a very popular figure in folk art and in advertising.
In this exhibition, The Chocolate Girl is being presented for the first time in the context of Liotard’s oeuvre as a whole. More than 100 outstanding works, including around 40 paintings on loan from major international institutions, private collections and ten of the museums in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, provide insights into Liotard’s artistic achievements. More than 40 pastels, oil paintings, drawings and prints illustrate the versatility of this artist, who produced not only portraits in pastel and genre scenes and still-lifes in oil, but also miniatures, figure and costume studies, as well as engravings.
The artist himself who, inspired by his travels through the Ottoman Empire and the principality of Moldavia, sported a luxuriant beard and fur cap and styled himself “le peintre turc” (the Turkish painter) is also featured in the exhibition. During his successful stay at the court of Maria Theresa in Vienna from 1743 to 1745, he not only painted The Chocolate Girl but also came into close personal contact with the monarch and was able to paint numerous portraits of her, including some in which she is dressed in Turkish costumes.
Two interactive media stations provide additional information, one about the many journeys through Europe undertaken by Liotard, and the other about the technique of pastel painting, which is explained using the findings of scientific investigations performed on The Chocolate Girl. Thanks to the support of the time-honoured Paris manufacturer “La Maison du Pastel”, it is possible to see how high-quality pastels are produced.