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Johann Zoffany

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Johann Zoffany Biography


Frankfurt 1733 - 1810 Kew


Zoffany was born Johannes Zauffaly, son of Anton Franz, court architect to Alexander Ferdinand, Prince von Thurn und Taxis. He was apprenticed to Martin Speer in Regensburg.


In 1750 Zoffany went to Rome, studying with the fashionable portrait painters Agostino Masucci (c.1691-1750) and Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), whose smooth, sophisticated portrait style he was to emulate. Zoffany returned to Regensburg c.1757 and worked for the Prince-Archbishop of Trier, producing decorative rococo oils and frescoes for the palaces of Ehrenbreitstein and Trier.


In 1760 he tried his luck in England, becoming friendly with the actor David Garrick and making a speciality of innovative, small-scale theatrical ‘conversation pieces’ which show actors in character on stage. Zoffany also developed ‘conversation piece’ portraits, family groups arranged in lively tableaux. These are painted with psychological acuteness and great realism in the details of interiors and dress, combining the meticulousness of his German training with the suavity of Italian influence.


Through the Prime Minister Lord Bute, Zoffany was brought to the notice of German-born Queen Charlotte and was commissioned by her to paint the Tribuna of the Uffizi in Florence. There he gained the patronage of Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and mixed with English Grand Tourists such as the antiquities collector Charles Towneley, whose marble-filled library he later painted (1781-3, Towneley Hall Art Gallery). In 1776 Zoffany travelled to Vienna with his portrait of the Grand Duke’s family to present to Pietro Leopoldo’s mother-in-law, Maria Theresa. He was rewarded by the Empress with the title Baron of the Holy Roman Empire.


After a year in Parma (1778-9) Zoffany returned to England to find his place as a fashionable portrait painter usurped and the Queen displeased by his Tribuna of the Uffizi filled with English connoisseurs (1772-7/8; Royal Collection). In 1783 Zoffany set sail for India to repair his fortunes, for there were rich pickings to be had painting wealthy East India Company officials. Zoffany produced some outstanding conversation pieces, among them The Auriol and Dashwood Families, and views of Indian life such as Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match (Tate Gallery), painted in a freer style than his earlier works.


His fortune made, Zoffany returned to England in 1789 and lived in style at Strand-on-the-Green, ‘an easy unaffected well informed agreeable Man’, as Lord Macartney described him. He exhibited at the Royal Academy until 1800, producing some history paintings including the French Revolutionary subject Plundering the King’s Cellar at Paris (1794). He died at Strand-on-the-Green in 1810 and is buried in Kew churchyard.


The work of Johan Zoffany is represented in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; the British Royal Collection; the National Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London; the Uffizi, Florence; the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT.






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