LONDON.- Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed constitutes a radical re evaluation of the extraordinary life and career of this brilliant and enigmatic artist. Born near Frankfurt in 1733, Zoffany moved to London in 1760. Adapting to the indigenous art culture and patterns of patronage, he created virtuoso portraits and subject pictures that proved to be highly desirable to a wide range of patrons including the actor David Garrick and the court of George III. A Nomination Member of the Royal Academy, his work provides an invaluable and often unique appraisal of key British institutions: the art academy; the Court; the theatre; the bourgeois family; and the British Empire. Of all the major artists at work in eighteenth-century England, none explored more inventively the interstices of Georgian society and the complexities of British imperial rule than Johan Zoffany.
The exhibition features over 60 oil paintings, and a selection of drawings and prints from British and international public and private collections, a number of which have rarely or never been exhibited before. The works testify to the central importance of Zoffany to the artistic culture of eighteenthcentury Europe.
Arranged thematically into eight sections, the exhibition opens with an exploration of his art in the 1750s when he trained in Rome and worked for German patrons, including the Prince-Archbishop and Elector of Trier, producing history paintings in the grand style. A highlight of this section includes an astonishing allegorical painting of David which has been traditionally considered to be a self-portrait (Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria).
Two years after Zoffanys arrival in London in 1760, he was introduced to the actor, David Garrick. The section of Garrick and the London Stage examines Zoffanys portraits and representations of the theatre showing Garrick and other famous British actors. These reveal Zoffanys brilliance in capturing the excitement of live performance on canvas, in the context of the theatrical revolution spearheaded by Garrick.
The Court focuses on the importance of patronage in Zoffanys portrait career from his introduction to the Court of George III in the early 1760s to his portraits of the family of the Empress Maria Theresa. Highlights in this section include Queen Charlotte and her Two Eldest Sons, 1764-5 (The Royal Collection) which demonstrates Zoffanys innovative treatment of royal sitters by placing them within a domestic setting.
The section devoted to the Royal Academy has as its focus Zoffanys major group portrait, The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-2 (The Royal Collection). Through this work and other major paintings associated with the Academy, the section reveals Zoffanys attitude towards the academic infrastructure of British artistic society and celebrates the formative years of the Kings Academy of Arts.
The section Families and Friends presents Zoffanys approach to portraiture as commissioned by aristocratic and bourgeois sitters. Developing the full potential of the group portrait as conversation piece, these works celebrate informality and sociability, and reveal the dynamics of ordinary, everyday family life. Often placed within grand interiors or on landed estates, these group portraits confirm the social and economic standing of sitters drawn from the world of politics, commerce and the arts.
Zoffanys sojourn in Italy from 1772 t0 1779 features in Italy, Old Masters, and the Antique. This period resulted in arguably his greatest painting: The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-7 (The Royal Collection). The ways in which Italy impacted upon Zoffanys visualization of the collecting of antique statuary and old master paintings is also explored.
A Passage to India examines Zoffanys life and work in India from 1783 to 1789. The life of the Indian courts and the relative integration of the British residents, many in the employ of the East India Company, are vividly captured in his portraits, genre paintings and landscapes, including his Indian masterpiece, Colonel Mordaunts Cock Match, 1784-8 (Tate, London).
Revolution, Reaction, and Retirement focuses on Zoffanys career in the 1790s after his return from India. His most ambitious paintings of this final period w ere the two pendant pictures portraying acts of barbarity perpetrated during the French Revolution; Plundering the Kings Cellar at Paris, 1794, (Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut) and A Scene in the Champ de Mars, Celebrating over the Bodies of the Swiss Soldiers on the 12th August 1792, with a Portrait of the Duke of Orleans, c.1794 (Museen der Stadt, Regensburg). Their shocking subject matter reveals the intensity of Zoffanys response to recent events in France, and his continuing desire to make a deeply personal statement through his art.