At their breakfast table, an elegantly dressed woman watches her daughter dunk a biscuit into a cup of milky coffee. As it is early morning, the little girl wears paper curlers in her hair. Coffee and chocolate were exclusive, luxurious beverages in the eighteenth century, often enjoyed at breakfast by those who could afford them.
As well as capturing a tender moment between mother and daughter, Liotard has lavished attention on the still life elements of this picture. He has used a build-up of thick, wet pastel to create dimensional reflections on the silver coffee pot and Chinese porcelain, whose glossy surfaces are in turn reflected in the lacquer tray. A minute signature and date – Liotard / a lion / 1754 (‘Liotard / in Lyon / 1754’) – are found on the sheet of music that pokes out from the open drawer.
Although this picture is not strictly a portrait, and was always described by Liotard himself as a woman and her daughter taking breakfast, its sitters have long been associated with the Lavergne family, relatives of Liotard’s who lived in Lyon. We know that Liotard visited his family in Lyon in the summer of 1754, and that he brought this pastel back with him to London, where he sold it for 200 guineas – an extremely high sum. The pastel has remained in Britain ever since.