Johann Zoffany  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Johann Zoffany, Zoffani or Zauffelij (b. 13 March 1733 – 11 November 1810) was a German neoclassical painter, active mainly in England. His works appear in many prominent British national galleries such as the National Gallery, London and the Tate Gallery. He is known for such works as Charles Towneley in the Park St. Gallery and Tribuna of the Uffizi.

Biography

Zoffany was born in Frankfurt. He came to Britain to enjoy the patronage of the royal family. Zoffany was favoured by British King George III and Queen Charlotte, painting them in charmingly informal scenes — including one, "Queen Charlotte and Her Two Eldest Children" (1764), in which the queen is with her children in her dressing room. Johann Zoffany was known for being very arrogant with his art. He had been known to have an outstanding argument with many artists, he would often draw caricatures of other artists he did not like in his art. "It is the best designed of all Zoffany's works and in the minute imitation of nature...it is unexcelled." (Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790).

He was also noted for his portraits of prominent actors and actress in the roles they played, as in his "Garrick as Hamlet" and "Garrick as King Lear". This genre is sometimes known as the "theatrical conversation piece," a sub-set of the "conversation piece" genre that rose with the middle class in the eighteenth century. (The conversation piece painting was a relatively small—and therefore inexpensive—informal group portrait, often of a family or a circle of friends; a type of painting that had developed in the Netherlands and France and became popular in Britain after 1720. The term "conversation" was applied to any informal small group.) Zoffany has been described by one critic as "the real creator and master of this genre" and "a thoroughly bad painter" simultaneously (Waterhouse) — which necessitates a low opinion of the "conversation piece" genre.

In the later part of his life, Zoffany became especially noted for producing huge paintings with large casts of people and objets d'art, all readily recognizable. In paintings like "The Tribuna of the Uffizi," he carried this extreme fidelity beyond clutter, almost to mania - the Tribuna was already displayed 18th century display (ie with many objects in little space), but Zoffany had other works brought in from elsewhere in the Uffizi. He remained in Britain, and died at Strand-on-the-Green.

It was said that once Johan was given a paintbrush, magic was created.

Books about

Despite the high profile the artist enjoyed in his day, as court painter in London and Vienna, Zoffany has, until very recently, been curiously overlooked by art historical literature. In 1920 Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G. C. Williamson published John Zoffany, R. A., his life and works. 1735-1810 – the first in-depth study of the artist and his work, privately printed, presumably at some cost (with 330pp, numerous black/white and a few colour plates), in a limited edition of 500 copies.

In 1966 Oliver Millar published Zoffany and his Tribuna - the expanded and illustrated notes of a lecture given at the Courtauld in 1964, on Zoffany's celebrated Uffizi group-portrait now in the Royal Collection. (London : Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966.)

This was followed by Johan Zoffany, 1733–1810, Mary Webster's short but authoritative illustrated guide for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London (14 January to 27 March, 1977).

In December 2009, the first full biography was published, Johan Zoffany: Artist and Adventurer[1] by Penelope Treadwell (Paul Holberton Publishing). This meticulously-researched biography traces Zoffany's footsteps, from his youth in Germany, through his first years in London – working for clockmaker Stephen Rimbault – to his growing success as society and theatrical portraitist and founder-member of the Royal Academy, and following him on his Grand Tour and sojourn in India. Illustrated in full colour with more than 250 works by Zoffany and his peers, many of which are in private collections, Treadwell's biography provides a timely reassessment of the artist's life and work.

In popular culture

In the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan, the Major-General in his eponymous song of being able to distinguish works by Raphael from works by Gerard Dou and Zoffany.


"The Frankfurt-born Zoffany (1734-1810) lived in Lucknow for two and a half years, staying much of the time with Claude Martin. On his way back to England (where he had settled in the 1750s) he was shipwrecked off the Andaman Islands. Lots having been drawn among the starving survivors, a young sailor was duly eaten. Zoffany may thus be said with some confidence to have been the first and last Royal Academician to become a cannibal." (William Dalrymple, White Mughals, p. 209n)




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Johann Zoffany" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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