The Metropolitan Museum of Art has received a jumbo stocking stuffer - 365 European paintings - bequeathed by Jayne Wrightsman, the Met's former trustee, and patron. According to ArtFix Daily, the gift, which includes the work of luminaries like Delacroix and Tiepolo, is valued at $80 million.


Keith Christiansen, who heads the Met's Department of European Paintings, told Hyperallergic that while the pictures from Wrightsman are all museum-grade, they also are all suitable to hang in a private residence: "They are the kinds of pictures you can see yourself living with," he explained.

"They are not grand gallery pictures." Wrightsman unwittingly made his point when she bought the collection in 1988 and hung it on the walls of her apartment. "You can see why she wanted to retain them,” he said. Certainly, one of these works calls attention to itself. Made with pastel by 18th-century artist Jean Etienne Liotard the work, titled Woman in Turkish Dress, Seated on a Sofa," is not only atypical for the time it was made, but it's also far from what Liotard is known for.

Out of style

Normally, Liotard's pictures bear the distinct signs of Neo-Classicism. His portraits of nobles, then, u+sually come with affectations. He even put on airs when he pictured himself. His Self-Portrait with Beard shows him at his easel decked out in a red velvet jacket, like one of the royals he paints.

And as he holds his brush, a pinky finger pokes up as if he were having tea with, say, Marie Adélaïde of Savoy - the Duke of Burgandy's wife. She comes to mind because of his portrait Marie-Adelaide, third daughter of Louis XV - the very woman in “Woman in Turkish Dress, Seated on a Sofa.

Not in character

But here's the thing.

What you see here is a figure without pretentions. Despite what Liotard calls her "Turkish dress," Marie-Adelaide doesn't preen or strut or in any way make an exhibition of herself. In fact, just the opposite. She crowds herself into a corner of a couch as if to hide from view, as if to say, "Leave me be. I don't want your eyes on me."

Unfair treatment

This may account for why Liotard's fellow Neo-Classicist portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and colleagues disparaged his work and art historians like Edward Lucie-Smith ridiculed him in "The Faber Book of Art Anecdotes, saying, "His pictures are just what ladies do when they paint for their amusement." And Reynolds' biographer James Northcote piled on the criticism about Liotard in Life of Reynolds in 1813, saying that Lioatard "too likes to please those who sat to him; thus he had great employment." It's hard to see how Marie-Adelaide, the subject of Woman in Turkish Dress Seated on a Couch wanted to be portrayed given her "I -want-to-be-alone" pose.