By Emily Misencik ’14
The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn. launched Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed this fall, showcasing 65 works of the 18th century artist Johan Zoffany (1733-1810). The exhibit at Yale University, which opened Thursday, Oct. 27 and runs until Sunday, Feb. 12, features Zoffany’s oil paintings, drawings, and prints rarely shown to the public. The works were collected from private and public collections around the world, borrowing from 45 lenders including major loans from Britian’s Royal Collection, Tate Britain, and the India Office Library. The Getty Museum and Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. also loaned pieces to the Yale exhibit. Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed was organized in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Arts in London where the exhibit will be displayed from Saturday, Mar. 10 until Sunday, Jun. 10. This is the first Zoffany exhibit in the United Sates. The last showing in Britain was 1976. The exhibit is curated by Marin Postle, who also edited a fully illustrated by that accompanies the exhibit.
Zoffany was born near Frankfurt, training under various artists in Germany and Italy during his adolescence. In 1760, Zoffany moved to London, exploring the complexities of Georgian society and British imperial rule. A majority of Zoffany’s pieces show a unique perspective on various British institutions, including the art academy, aristocratic and bourgeois family, and the British family. In England, Zoffany adapted well to the art and English patronage, as displayed in his desirable portraits and subject matters. Although Zoffany experienced great artistic success in England, he remained an outsider by scrutinizing British society and customs. Zoffany then traveled for long periods of time throughout Germany, Austria, Italy and India, which are observed and noted in his aristic works. Exhibit highlights include David Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard in ‘Macbeth’ (1768), Archduke Francis (1775), and Self-portrait (1778).
Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed is divided into eight thematic sections, tracing the trajectory of Zoffany’s live and artistic career. The thematic sections include: the early years; Zoffany, Garrick and the London Stage; Zoffany at Court; Zoffany and the Royal Academy; Portraits and Conversations; Italy, Old Masters and the Antique; A Passage to India; and lastly Revolution, Reaction, and Retirement. A large majority of the exhibit focuses on Zoffany’s works during his six-year stay in India from 1783 to 1789. Works include Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudha (1784), oil on canvas. This particular section displays the relationship between Indian rulers and the East India Company through portraits, genre paintings, and landscapes.
The exhibit showcases a timeline of Zoffany’s life, career and travels. It aims to illustrate Zoffany’s importance in 18th century British and European art, as the artist is often overlooked. However, recently major Zoffany works have appeared on the market after centuries in private collections. Last December, possibly in preparation of the exhibit, Sotherby’s in London sold a portrait of British officials and Indian manservant for $1.2 million. Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed showcases an artistic talent, often overlooked, but nevertheless a crucial aristic display and rendering of the 18th century.