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Royal Academy of Arts opens Johan Zoffany exhibition

The Royal Academy of Arts in London presents Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed an exhibition on view 10 March – 10 June 2012.

Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed constitutes a radical re-evaluation of the extraordinary life and career of this brilliant and enigmatic artist. Born near Frankfurt in 1733, Zoffany moved to London in 1760. Adapting to the indigenous art culture and patterns of patronage, he created virtuoso portraits and subject pictures that proved to be highly desirable to a wide range of patrons including the actor David Garrick and the court of George III. A Nomination Member of the Royal Academy, his work provides an invaluable and often unique appraisal of key British institutions: the art academy; the Court; the theatre; the bourgeois family; and the British Empire. Of all the major artists at work in eighteenth-century England, none explored more inventively the interstices of Georgian society and the complexities of British imperial rule than Johan Zoffany.

The exhibition features over 60 oil paintings, and a selection of drawings and prints from British and international public and private collections, a number of which have rarely or never been exhibited before. The works testify to the central importance of Zoffany to the artistic culture of eighteenth- century Europe.

Arranged thematically into eight sections, the exhibition opens with an exploration of his art in the 1750s when he trained in Rome and worked for German patrons, including the Prince-Archbishop and Elector of Trier, producing history paintings in the grand style. A highlight of this section includes an astonishing allegorical painting of David which has been traditionally considered to be a self-portrait (Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria).

Johan Zoffany RA (Zauffaly) was born near Frankfurt in 1733. He trained as an artist in Germany and Italy. His earliest known works were made for German princedoms in the 1750s. In 1760 Zoffany moved to London. There he was patronised initially by the actor, David Garrick, and by the Court of George III, where he achieved considerable success. Zoffany became a Royal Academician in 1769, a year after the Academy was founded by George III with Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first President. In 1772 Zoffany went to Italy with a commission from Queen Charlotte to paint The Tribuna of the
Uffizi. He also visited Vienna and Parma, before returning to England in 1779. Following a sojourn in India from 1783 to 1789, he worked once more in England, until his retirement around 1800. Zoffany died in 1810, and was buried near his home in Kew, alongside Thomas Gainsborough.

Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed has been co-organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Yale Center for British Art. The exhibition is curated by Martin Postle, Assistant Director for Academic Activities at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The organising curator at the Yale Center for British Art is Gillian Forrester, Curator of Prints and Drawings, and, at the Royal Academy, MaryAnne Stevens, Director of Academic Affairs.

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J OBD

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