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Yale Center launches fall season with premiere of Zoffany exhibition that re-evaluates artist
The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-72, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection, © 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- This fall the Yale Center for British Art will be the first and only US venue for a major retrospective of Johan Zoffany, considered one of the most fascinating and visually captivating artists of the eighteenth century. Opening October 27, Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed will feature sixty-fi ve oil paintings and a selection of drawings and prints—many of which have rarely or never been exhibited—from public and private collections around the world, including Britain, India, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, and the United States. Incorporating revelatory new research carried out over the past decade in Europe and India, the exhibition will constitute a timely and radical re-evaluation of the extraordinary life and career of this brilliant and enigmatic artist. It is the first exhibition devoted to the artist to be held in the United States and the first in Britain since 1976. Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed has been organized jointly with the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Of all the major artists working in eighteenth-century England, none explored more inventively the complexities of Georgian society and British imperial rule than Zoffany. Born near Frankfurt, Zoffany moved to London in 1760. Despite achieving considerable success in England, he remained in many ways an outsider, looking dispassionately at British society. His body of work offers a unique perspective on key British institutions, including the art academy, the Court, the theater, the aristocratic and bourgeois family, and the British Empire.

Zoffany adapted brilliantly to the art culture and patterns of patronage in England, creating virtuoso portraits and subject pictures that proved to be highly desirable to a wide range of patrons. In spite of his accomplishments, Zoffany resisted complete integration into his adopted country and traveled for extended periods in Italy and India, incorporating visits to Austria and his native Germany. After his death, however, there was no move to recognize Zoffany as one of the key fi gures in the burgeoning British school of art. This exhibition aims to correct that oversight and will bring to the forefront the central importance of Zoffany to the artistic culture of eighteenth-century Europe.

A substantial section will be devoted to the works Zoffany produced during his sixyear residence in India between 1783 and 1789. His depictions of the court at Oudh and of emerging colonial society constitute a penetrating account of public and domestic life in northern India at a critical transitional moment in its complex history. Major loans for this section of the exhibition will travel from Britain’s Royal Collection, Tate Britain, and the India Offi ce Library.

Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed will be divided into eight thematic sections that trace the trajectory of the artist’s career.

The Early Years explores Zoffany’s artistic training in Germany and Italy, as well as his art from the 1750s, when he worked for important German patrons, producing Baroque history paintings.

Zoffany, Garrick, and the London Stage considers Zoffany’s brilliance in capturing the excitement of live performance on canvas. He was introduced to the English stage by the actor, David Garrick, and painted many of Garrick’s most memorable portraits.

Zoffany at Court focuses on the importance of court patronage in the artist’s portrait career, from his introduction to the court of George III in the early 1760s to his portraits of the Grand Ducal Court of Tuscany and the family of the Empress Maria Theresa.

Zoffany and the Royal Academy looks at Zoffany’s major Royal commission, The Academicians of the Royal Academy (Royal Collection) of 1771–72. Through this work and others associated with the Academy, the exhibition reveals Zoffany’s attitude toward the academic infrastructure of British artistic society.

Portraits and Conversations considers Zoffany’s family group portraits, most notably his small conversation pieces. These intimate and informal portraits reveal the dynamics of ordinary, everyday family life. At the same time, they were produced for some of the wealthiest and most infl uential members of society.

Italy, Old Masters, and the Antique traces Zoffany’s sojourn in Italy from 1772 to 1779, which resulted in his celebrated painting, The Tribuna of the Uffi zi (Royal Collection). Upon his return to London, imbued with the spirit of the Grand Tour, Zoffany painted one of his greatest works, Charles Towneley’s Library in Park Street (Townley Hall).

A Passage to India looks at Zoffany’s time in India from 1783 to 1789. The complex power relations between Indian rulers and the East India Company, lavish Indian court life, and cosmopolitan and often decadent lifestyles of the European merchants, soldiers, and adventurers are vividly captured in his portraits, genre paintings, and landscapes.

Revolution, Reaction, and Retirement takes us to the end of Zoffany’s career through the 1790s. His most ambitious paintings of this fi nal period were the pictures portraying the atrocities of the French Revolution. Their shocking iconography reveals the intensity of Zoffany’s response to recent events in France and his desire to make a deeply personal statement through his art.

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