Zoffany and Kirby

The German artist Johan Zoffany (1733—1810) had a colorful life. Raised in the court of the princes of Thurn und Taxis, he showed an early interest in drawing and studied art first in Germany, and then in Italy where he spent six or seven years at Rome from the time he was seventeen. When he returned to Regensburg, he was soon appointed court painter. His life took a dramatic turn when he made a sudden, unsuitable, and, indeed, unsuccessful marriage, abandoned Germany and went to London in 1760. The kind of art that was popular in Germany was not to the taste of patrons in London, and Zoffany re-invented himself as a portrait painter, a line in which he became very successful, his sitters soon extending as far as the Royal family. Doubtless he was helped by his court polish and German background. At some point in the 1760s he became friends with Joshua Kirby, but the details are elusive. Mary Webster, in her monumental book on Zoffany, repeatedly affirms their friendship, but does not mention when and how they met. However, the art world in London was small, and the art world at court even smaller, so Kirby and Zoffany would certainly have had many opportunities to meet.

In 1772, Zoffany had planned to go with Joseph Banks as an artist on Captain Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas, but the project foundered on Banks’ excessive requirements for men and equipment. Instead, Zoffany went to Italy with a commission from Queen Charlotte to paint the famous gallery in Florence. Zoffany spent seven years on the task, returning with a picture, and a bill, that did not please the King and Queen. Zoffany stayed in London for a few years before going out to India, where he was enormously successful and made a good fortune. However, life in India was not good for his health, and he returned to England in 1789 and was based there for the rest of his life. He died in 1810 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Anne’s at Kew, along with Gainsborough and Kirby.

One of Zoffany’s portraits from the late 1760s is the rather charming The Reverend Randall Burroughes and his Son Ellis of 1769. Burroughes was a wealthy clergyman from Norfolk and Ellis, his only son was born in 1764.

The book young Ellis is engaged with is Joshua Kirby’s Perspective of Architecture (1761). Zoffany’s copy of this book was auctioned off with the rest of his belongings when he left for Florence in 1772. Zoffany’s portraits were careful compositions arranged to present an idealistic view. In the case of the Burroughes, not only is the setting contrived, but even the representation of the book. Mary Webster notes, “With characteristic pictorial licence, Ellis is shown turning over the frontispiece, designed by Hogarth, but the engraved plate of an arch that can be seen beneath is in reality Plate IV of the second volume of Kirby’s work” (170).





Webster, M. (2011). Johan Zoffany. New Haven: Yale University Press.

5 thoughts on “Zoffany and Kirby

  1. Val Bott

    My recent research on the history of Chiswick in the 18th century began as context for Hogarth’s House whose refurbishment I co-ordinated (it re-opened in 2011). One of the striking features of the local community (and that of neighbouring parishes too) is the influence of the royal court just across the river at Kew. The 3 communities of Chiswick Parish – the riverside village of Strand on the Green, the straggling village of Turnham Green along the London – Bath Road, and Chiswick Town (now Chiswick Mall or Old Chiswick) downstream – had numerous second homes of courtiers, royal servants and other hangers on. Zoffany lived at London Stile House, on the London-Bath road near the 6-mile stone (which you can find on Rocque’s map of London and environs 1746). This is only about 250m from Kew Ferry/Kew bridge, which led to Kew Green where Kirby came to live. Both men are buried at St Ann’s Kew which Kirby in part designed and probably worshipped there as it was effectively the royal family’s parish church. (The church celebrates its 300th anniversary this year with a new history to be launched at a lecture by the author David Blomfield at the church at 7pm 29 April 2014)

    Val Bott, Chairman, William Hogarth Trust williamhogarthtrust.org.uk

    1. dmelville2012 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. Indeed, the court did exert a strong influence on the north side of the Thames as well as in Kew.
      David Garrick was an early patron of Zoffany and seems to have been the first to introduce him to the pleasures of river-side living, from his house further along the river at Hampton. Zoffany made the most of his riverside location, having a boat that could host floating music parties, a popular pastime then.

  2. Pingback: Zoffany’s Resignation Letter | Kirby and his world

  3. Pingback: St. Anne’s, Kew | Kirby and his world

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