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Johan Zoffany RA

Society Observed

Martin Postle


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The 18th-century painter Johan Zoffany (1733–1810) was an astute observer of the many social circles in which he functioned as an artist over the course of his long career. This catalogue investigates his sharp wit, shrewd political appraisal, and perceptive social commentary (including subtle allusions to illicit relationships)—all achieved while presenting his subjects as delightful and sophisticated members of polite society. 

A skilled networker, Zoffany established himself at the court of George III and Queen Charlotte soon after his arrival in England from his native Germany. At the same time, he befriended the leading actor David Garrick and through him became the foremost portrayer of Georgian theater. His brilliant effects and deft style were well suited to theatricality of all sorts, enabling him to secure patronage in England and on the continent. Following a prolonged visit to Italy he travelled to India, where he quickly became a popular and established member within the circle of Warren Hastings, the governor-general. Zoffany's Indian paintings are among his most spectacular and allowed him to return to England enriched and warmly welcomed. This volume provides a sparkling overview of his finest works.

Praise For Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed

Shortlisted for the William M. B. Berger Prize for British History, as given by the Berger Collection Educational Trust and The British Art Journal

— William M. B. Berger Prize

Yale University Press, 9780300176049, 320pp.

Publication Date: December 6, 2011

About the Author

Martin Postle is assistant director for academic activities at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. He was formerly a curator at Tate Britain.