Rare $5.4 Million Jean-Étienne Liotard Portrait Goes to Rijksmuseum After 250 Years in UK

An export ban on it has been lifted, as no UK institution could match the price.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, A Dutch girl at breakfast (c. 1756-57). Courtesy Rijksmuseum.
Jean-Etienne Liotard, A Dutch girl at breakfast (c. 1756-57). Courtesy Rijksmuseum.

Jean-Étienne Liotard’s A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (1756), the Swiss artist’s tribute to Dutch Golden Age painting, is going to the Netherlands after spending centuries in an English collection.

The painting was bought in 1774 by Liotard’s friend and patron, the second Earl of Bessborough, and had remained in the family collection ever since.

But when the painting hit the auction block at the Sotheby’s London Old Masters sale this past July, the winning bidder was Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which paid £4.4 million ($5.4 million) for it.

As the work had been in England for so long the UK government placed an export ban on the work, hoping to attract a UK buyer, but no British institution could match the price, so the export license for the work to leave the country was officially granted yesterday.

According to the Telegraaf, the painting—which will be on display from mid-January—was the first acquisition made by the museum’s new director Taco Dibbits, who took up the post in July 2016 .

In a release, Dibbits said of the painting:

“A Dutch girl at breakfast radiates the same atmosphere of peace and simplicity as Vermeer’s Milkmaid. In this sensitive representation, the painter allows us to get very close to his subject. As the girl carefully opens the tap of the coffee-pot, she won’t allow herself to be disturbed by the millions of visitors who will come to see her. We are extremely grateful to the funds and private donors who made it possible to acquire this masterpiece for The Netherlands.”

Liotard was very successful and sought after artist in his time due to his beautiful, flattering 18th-century society portraits.

According to the Guardian, lots of works in pastel have survived, yet only 30 oil paintings by him are extant. This fact makes A Dutch Girl at Breakfast, an oil on canvas work and thought to be the last one in private hands, even more valuable.

In 2015, Liotard was the subject of a major survey at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which garnered rave reviews.


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