Johann Zoffany

Dates1733 - 1810

Johann Zoffany found his niche when he settled in England in 1761. Born Johannes Josephus Zauffaly in Germany, he apprenticed there under a pupil of Francesco Solimena, then studied in Italy, developing a decorative Rococo style that incorporated minute, realistic detail. In England Zoffany discovered his gift for painting small group scenes. His technical brilliance and ability to create a theatrical effect set him apart and captured the attention of actor-manager David Garrick, who commissioned paintings of well-known actors onstage, usually in scenes from actual plays. Engraved in mezzotint, these "theatrical pictures" made Zoffany's reputation.

Zoffany painted informal conversation pieces and portraits, gaining King George III's patronage. For the first time ever an artist depicted the king's family with a new informality. George III himself nominated Zoffany to the new Royal Academy in 1769. Three years later Zoffany traveled to Italy and elsewhere in Europe, where his palette was enhanced by luscious reds, blues, and oranges. When he returned to England after seven years abroad, the vogue for conversation pieces was over, and Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough were supplying portraits. In 1783 he found a market in India, returning to England in 1789 a rich man but never regaining his 1760s popularity.