Johan Zoffany, R.A. 1733-1810 Mary Webster

Publication date:
29 Apr 2011
Paul Mellon Centre
720 pages: 286 x 248mm
100 b-w + 330 color illus.
Sales territories:

Universally recognised as a brilliant and gifted eighteenth-century artist, Zoffany was regarded by Horace Walpole as one of the three greatest painters in England, along with his friends Reynolds and Gainsborough. He has remained without a detailed study of his life and works owing to the fascinating and complex vicissitudes of his career, now established from widely scattered sources. Starting out as a late-baroque painter at a German princely court, he moved to London in 1760 and soon became a leading portraitist. A loyal patron was the great actor David Garrick through whom Zoffany became admired as the unrivalled interpreter of the Georgian stage.

The delightful inventions of his conversation pieces proved, then as now, fashionably successful images of private lives and led to his swift rise into the royal patronage of George III and Queen Charlotte. Sent by the queen to paint the celebrated Tribuna of the Uffizi in Florence, Zoffany while there received commissions from the Empress Maria Theresa for family portraits which took him to the courts of Vienna and Parma. Back in London but out of favour with the fashionable world, he left for the Bengal of Warren Hastings. Portraying the Anglo-Indian society of Calcutta, and working up-country at the glittering court of the Nawab of Lucknow, he developed a serious interest in Indian life and landscape. His fortune made, he returned with impaired health, but continued painting pictures of India, theatrical scenes and portraits, turning in old age to attack the bloody progress of the French revolution. Zoffany set foot in so many worlds that their contrast alone gives a constantly changing interest to the history of his life and work: his pictures document with incomparable liveliness the worlds and people among whom he moved.

Mary Webster was formerly at the Warburg Institute and was curator of the College Art Collections at University College London.

"Mary Webster, formerly…..has devoted many years to studying his varied career. She and Yale University Press have now done him proud with this massive volume of over 700 pages, illustrated superbly by colour plates." —Paul Johnson, Literary Review 

"Her 700 pages – no stone unturned – are a monument to her diligence and persistence... this is a wonderful book, setting Zoffany in his various scenes so perfectly that we have evocation after evocation of 18th-century society, weaving life into his art, appending illuminating documents, a perfect preparation for the exhibition to be held at the Royal Academy next spring."—Brian Sewell, Evening Standard

"Shown in glorious detail in coloured illustrations... [This book will] give you a perfect idea of Zoffany’s genius."—Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

"Mary Webster has spent half a lifetime with her fascinating subject and honours him with an encyclopaedic, superbly illustrated book that, even as its end, is reluctant to let him go."—David Blayney Brown, World Of Interiors

"Webster offers a constant stream of information and insight, well selected and structured and elegantly expressed."—Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Country Life 

"This is a fastidious and elegantly produced monograph."—Francis Russell, The Art Newspaper

"This encyclopaedic study of the 18th-century artist Johan Zoffany (1733 – 1810) is the first to do justice to the complex vicissitudes of his career."—Apollo

"Mary Webster's Johan Zoffany, 1733-1910, one of the most substantial and beautifully illustrated monographs on an artist (and his times) ever to appear."—Edward Chaney, The Art Newspaper

"This monumental biography of Johan Zoffany and critical account of his work has been long awaited and is worth it. This is an almost impossible task magnificently accomplished... Webster’s account of Zoffany’s Indian period is particularly impressive and well informed."Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Burlington Magazine

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