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Johann Zoffany

1733 – 1810

Johann Zoffany, painter of portraits and conversation pieces, grew up in the court of the Prince von Thurn und Taxis in Germany, where his father was employed. Having completed his apprenticeship under Martin Speer, he went to Rome to continue his studies in portraiture. Arriving in England in about 1760, he found work with a clockmaker and began to paint drapery in the studio of Benjamin Wilson, an undistinguished portraitist. Catching the eye of David Garrick, London’s leading actor, he painted the Garrick family, and various views of actors in performance that - engraved in mezzotint - made his name. Queen Charlotte and King George became his patrons, and he painted some unusually informal royal portraits. From 1762 to 1769 he exhibited at the Society of Artists; after George III nominated him for membership of the Royal Academy in 1769, he exhibited there for thirty years. For six years in the 1770s he worked mainly in Florence, where he painted The Tribuna of the Uffizi, an odd, ambitious and technically brilliant picture that alienated the English king and queen. In 1783, he went to India, where he remained for six years. He returned to England having earned a fortune, but he found that his conversation pieces no longer attracted interest, and in the field of portraiture he had been usurped by Reynolds and Gainsborough. By 1809, he appears to have developed dementia; he died in London the following year. Mary Webster curated a Zoffany exhibition for the National Portrait Gallery, London in the mid-1970s, and produced the definitive book about the painter in 2011. The Royal Academy held a Zoffany show in 2012.

Updated 2018