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George III and Johan Zoffany

Johann Zoffany, Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons, c.1765 ©

Zoffany (1733/4–1810) trained in Germany and Italy before making his career in England, where he became the most inventive and accomplished painter of theatrical scenes and conversation pieces. George III (1739–1820) employed him in the 1760s and early 1770s to record the happy life of his young family, and to decorate their new home, Buckingham House. Four royal family groups (nos. 19–22) exhibit almost the same range of formal to informal as the Dutch seventeenth-century works shown here (nos. 1–6).

As a painter, Zoffany was more aware of the technical secrets of the Dutch masters than his English contemporaries: his detail is nearly as sharp as theirs, his colours as fresh, his silks as glossy and his interiors as light-filled. Horace Walpole wrote of him: ‘I look upon him as a Dutch painter polished or civilized. He finishes as highly, renders nature as justly, and does not degrade it, as the Flemish school did’.