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Paintings commissioned by one of Britain's greatest actors acquired by The Bowes Museum
David Garrick and Mary Bradshaw in David Garrick'’s ‘The Farmer’s Return©The Bowes Museum.

COUNTY DURHAM.- Two stunning paintings commissioned by one of England’s finest actors have been added to the permanent collection of The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle.

Commissioned by the 18th Century thespian David Garrick - deemed by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time - they were painted by Johan Zoffany, a German born neoclassical artist mainly active in England.

Sold by Garrick’s widow at Christie’s in 1823, they remained in family ownership until they were transferred to the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme administered by Arts Council England. They have been allocated to The Bowes Museum following a successful application by its Keeper of Fine Art, Emma House.

The paintings - entitled David Garrick and Mrs Cibber as Jaffier and Belvidera in ‘Venice Preserv’d’, and David Garrick and Mary Bradshaw in David Garrick’s ‘The Farmer’s Return’ – portray the actor in famous theatrical roles and were commissioned by him in 1762 to hang in the dining room of his house at The Adelphi, one of London’s most fashionable developments at that time.

“Zoffany’s art covers the whole of 18th Century society from royalty to cockfighting, and we’re delighted that the AIL scheme has allocated them to us,” said Ms House. “He did masterly portraits of great actors in famous roles, of which these are fine examples. Zoffany’s careful study of Garrick and his fellow actors in these paintings, in which gestures and actions are faithfully rendered, provides a splendid record of 18th Century acting style.”

As well as being a famous artist, Zoffany also has the dubious distinction of being the first and probably the last ‘British’ painter to turn cannibal when, after earning a fortune in India through painting Anglo-Indian society, he was shipwrecked on his way back to Europe. Lots having been drawn amongst the starving survivors, a young sailor was duly eaten, according to William Dalrymple in his book White Mughals.

“Zoffany was definitely a colourful character, who lived a bold and varied life, venturing between Germany, Italy, England and India,” added Ms House.

Zoffany’s works appear in many prominent collections, including the Tate, National Gallery and the Royal Collection, and now The Bowes Museum.

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