This special display at The Bowes Museum
celebrates England's best-known 18th century actor, David Garrick (1717-1779), to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.
The Museum recently acquired two outstanding paintings by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), commissioned by Garrick deemed by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time representing the thespian in action.
The Farmers Return and Venice Preservd were each painted in 1762 for Garricks house at The Adelphi, at that time one of Londons most fashionable developments. They portray the actor, who symbolises the high success of 18th-century theatre, acting in both tragedy and comedy, in two successful plays of the time.
Held in the same private collection since the death of Garricks widow in 1820 until their arrival at The Bowes Museum, the paintings will be celebrated for the first time.
Garricks wealth and friendship with Zoffany gave the artist the opportunity to fully develop a specific British genre, painting the theatrical action, created a few years earlier by Hogarth. Zoffany made at least six paintings of Garrick in different plays, designed to be hung in the actors dining room in The Adelphi house. Garrick had copies ordered to be offered to friends, and the mezzotints made from these paintings had huge commercial success.
Fintan O'Toole, the biographer of Garrick's successor, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, wrote:
The relationship between the actors and the audience had been transformed. Audiences had been put in their place. And we're still in that place. On every occasion we stop talking when the lights go down, we're paying a kind of tribute to Garrick's legacy. . .
Through paintings, engravings, contemporary mezzotints and theatrical paraphernalia, the display shows how artists depicted the theatrical action, and how these representations encouraged the emerging phenomenon of celebrity. It also makes possible a remarkable collaboration with The Georgian Theatre Royal in nearby Richmond (North Yorkshire), which is aimed at helping visitors understand and appreciate theatrical life in the 18th century while illustrating how Yorkshire was the first place for theatre entertainment after London. Built in 1788, it is the UKs oldest working theatre in its original form.
Zoffanys works appear in many prominent collections including the Tate, National Gallery and the Royal Collection as well as The Bowes Museum.
Painting the Theatre: Garrick in Action opened on 8 April 2017 and runs until 9 July 2017. It will be accompanied by a series of Gallery Talks throughout the run.