Portrait Sans trait d'un armenien de geneve grand faiseur de portraits en 1754

(Portrait without features of an Armenian from Geneva, great painter of portraits in 1754)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Caption states 1754
Place of Production:
Paris, France
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper; a silhouette of blank paper pasted onto the page.
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

The silhouette of a man depicted in right profile, seated in a high backed chair with elegantly curved legs, has been cut out from a single sheet of white paper and pasted onto a square of black wash, painted towards the top of the page. The man, whose mouth is slightly ajar, has a strangely shaped tassel-like beard, which has a serrated lower edge. He is dressed in a long robe. The man leans forward, extending an arm towards the right, where a canvas sits on an easel. The top of the easel has been ripped away.

Curatorial Commentary

The later graphite inscriptions indicating ‘Yotar’ or ‘Liotard’, combined with the distinctive silhouette profile, make it clear that this image represents the Genevan artist, Jean-Étienne Liotard, famous for his bearded appearance and self-proclaimed identity as ‘the Turkish painter’. Liotard was much travelled, and was particularly well-known in Paris, having spent the years 1723 to 1735 there (beardless, as far as one can judge) before a long sojourn in Constantinople (1738-42). When he returned to live in Paris in 1748, his beard and Turkish dress made him a celebrity. He was picked out at court, and over the next few years portrayed many members of the royal family, as well as king Louis XV’s mistress (and Charles-Germain’s sponsor), Madame de Pompadour, and numerous literary figures. However, Liotard had enemies at the Académie royale de Peinture and was not elected to it. Instead he showed his work at the Académie de Saint-Luc annually from 1751 to 1753. In 1752 he exhibited the famous self-portrait at an easel, with a beard and in Turkish dress, holding a stick of pastel.. (“Autoportrait à la longue barbe”, Genève, Musée d’art et d’histoire, inv. 1843-5; illustrated in Rœthlisberger and Loche, ii, 2008, cat.196), parodied here. However, instead of the close-up viewpoint, three-quarter face and spare composition of the Genevan pastel portrait, this silhouette shows the artist bare-headed and seated in a chair at an easel. The position of the artist - leaning forward towards the easel - emphasises the protruding nose and bizarre shape of the beard seen in profile. The date 1754 is given, although by that time Liotard was based in London, and shortly afterwards he shaved off the beard that had made his profile so distinctive.

The silhouette technique used here became popular during and after the financial ministry of Étienne de Silhouette in 1759, but was known before. The Swiss artist Jean Huber made a similar white on black silhouette of Liotard, though without his beard, probably in the 1750s. The chronicler Mechior Grimm mentioned “les découpages de M. Huber” (‘the cut-outs of Monsieur Huber’) in January 1760. (Grimm, iv, p. 17) It is conceivable that Charles-Germain had seen examples of this, as well as Liotard himself and his self-portrait.

There is a pun in the title: “sans trait” means without a facial feature, a facet of the image that the technique justifies. A “trait” is also a line in a drawing (a “dessin au trait” is a line drawing) – but the lines in this image were achieved by cutting, not drawing.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Yotar Liotard
Inscribed in an unknown hand, below image, in graphite; the word 'Yotar' is centrally aligned on the page, and 'Liotard' written at the far right.

Portrait Sans trait d'un armenien de geneve grand / faiseur de portraits en 1754
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Top right, in ink; last digit truncated by page's edge

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Yotar Liotard
Portrait without features of an Armenian from Geneva, great painter of portraits in 1754


Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Colin Jones, Presidential Address. French Crossings. II. Laughing over Boundaries, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 21, December 2011, 1-38; p. 32
Katie Scott; Saint-Aubin's jokes and their relation to...; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 349-403; pp. 364, 366, fig. 16.4

Related literature

Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, Maurice Tourneux; Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique par Grimm, Diderot, Raynal, Meister, etc; Paris; Garnier Frères; 1877-1882. vol. iv, p. 17
M Roethlisberger, R. Loche; Liotard: Catalogue, sources et correspondance; Netherlands; Davaco Publishers; 2008

Indexed terms