La Chocolatière by Jean-Etienne Liotard

This portrait is done with pastels!

A portrait of a neatly dressed young girl gracefully holding a tray with hot chocolate and a glass of water is one of the most famous works by the Swiss artist, Jean-Etienne Liotard and one of the most delightful highlights of the Dresden Gallery. The Chocolate Girl (known also as La Belle Chocolatière, or Das Schokoladenmädchen) doesn’t take any notice of the viewer fully concentrating on serving the hot chocolate, which Liotard depicts almost as a chic ritual. Chocolate was a luxury drink at the time and could be afforded only by the nobility or merchants. Liotard painted The Chocolate Girl between 1743 and 1745, during his stay in Vienna at the court of the Austrian Empress Maria-Theresia. It was common back then that young pretty girls from families of lower nobility were recruited to the court as maidens or companions to princesses. While it has never been determined with certainty who was the model for this portrait, it is possible that it was one of the maidens at the court who simply impressed the artist with her beauty.

There is of course another interpretation that reads more like a fairy-tale but nevertheless offers a convincing explanation to this finely painted portrait and its subject. It is thought that the chocolate girl was a daughter of an impoverished knight Anna Balthauf,  who worked in one of the chocolate shops in Vienna. One day, Prince Dietrichstein, a young Austrian nobleman visited the shop and fell in love with Anna and soon thereafter asked her to marry him. The present work could be commissioned to Liotard as a wedding gift, portraying Anna as the Prince first saw her.

Liotard was well in demand at courts and cities in Europe owing to his naturalistic style, accurately finished detail and distinguished pastel technique. No wonder that he was trained as a miniature painter (see detail of the Chocolate Girl’s tray in the slideshow and keep in mind that this is pastel not oil paint!), however he was rejected by the Académie Royale and spent his career traveling throughout Europe and European colonies painting portraits and gaining reputation for his skill in achieving likeness of a sitter.

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