Category Archives: Kirby

A Mystery Box

Reader Gina sends in these pictures of a painted antique wooden box in her possession. Because of the signature, she thinks it may have been painted by, or associated with, John or Joshua Kirby, but there is no detailed provenance. I have not seen or heard a description of any similar item and we would welcome any comments or hints people may have.

St. Anne’s, Kew

The church of St. Anne on Kew Green was dedicated in 1714, having been built on land donated by Queen Anne, and is celebrating its tercentenary in 2014. Over the course of the three centuries, the church has been enlarged, renovated and altered numerous times. The church website has a useful sequential plan.

The church began as a modest chapel in what is roughly the central portion of the modern façade.

It was then enlarged in 1770 with the addition of two aisles, the northern one being used as part of the church, and the southern aisle as a charity school. This enlargement was designed by Joshua Kirby, and paid for by George III. The southern aisle was later incorporated into the church.

Kirby died in 1774 and was buried near the new southern wall of the church he had re-designed only a few years before, and this portion of the foot print of the building has not altered since then.

Near Kirby’s grave is that of his long-time friend, Thomas Gainsborough:

St. Anne’s also holds the graves of Jeremiah Meyer, miniature painter to the King, and Johan Zoffany.

Zoffany’s Resignation Letter

The late 1760s was a bad time for the Society of Artists. Riven by factions, it was failing. A dissident group, including most of the prominent artists broke away and persuaded the king to found a Royal Academy. In a vain attempt to forestall this, the Society of Artists made Kirby its President, presumably on account of his good relationship with George III. George did not stand with Kirby, however, and he was forced to deal with the defections of many of his friends to the new academy. Among those who left the Society was Kirby’s friend, Johan Zoffany, who submitted the following letter of resignation, in one epic sentence.

Sir,

Sensible of the Regard shewn me by you, and the directors & fellows of the Incorporated Society of Artists, by their Unanimity in re-electing me a director of the Society for the present year, as well as in their Choice of me into the Committee for the Governance of the Academy: it is with Great regret that I am Constrain’d to Acquanit you, that my business requires me, very soon, to leave England for some time, & consequently must deprive me of all Opportunities of attending on the Affairs of the Society, & also being Sensible, that there are many very ingenious Gentlemen Amongst us who are equally desirous to give all possible attention for the promoting the welfare of so Useful an institution, & that my Continuance in the direction & in the Committee, during my Absence, will be attended with inconvenience to the Body by keeping such other Gentlemen from giving the necessary Assistance, I must beg leave of You & the Society to resign my Appointments. Assuring that I am with the Greatest Respect for you & the Society in General,

Sir,

Your most hble servant

Johan Zoffany

November 22nd, 1769.

The letter has none of Zoffany’s characteristic linguistic eccentricities and certainly was not written by him, although he did sign it (Webster, 248). Whatever Zoffany’s plans were in November 1769, he did not leave the country for several years, which exposed him to a certain amount of criticism, especially when the King nominated him for the Royal Academy on December 11.

 

 

References

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

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).

 

 

 

References

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

Critiques of Analysis of Beauty

Paul Sandby didn’t have it all his own way in his attacks on William Hogarth in the wake of the publication of the Analysis of Beauty. Despite misgivings in some quarters about Hogarth’s pretensions in reducing art to the `line of beauty’, the book was generally well-received. Paulson devotes a chapter to its reception in his 3-volume biography of Hogarth, giving a long description of various reviews from lengthy treatments, including one possibly written by Samuel Johnson for the Gentleman’s Magazine, to short poetic squibs. Paulson’s summary of the immediate reception in London is that, “The reviews acknowledged both its originality and its usefulness for a variety of readers. But they also leave the impression that Hogarth had strong friends within the literary establishment, and that his enemies were a small group centered in the St. Martin’s Lane Academy” (Paulson iii, 142). In other words, literary reviews were as much about personalities and politics as they were about the content of the reviewed work. At the time there was a great deal of ferment in artistic London with a group attempting to form an Academy with professorships and closed membership, a move opposed by Hogarth.

Among the lighter responses to the publication of the Analysis of Beauty quoted by Paulson is the following verse, which Paulson cites as appearing in the London Evening Post of 7—9 February 1754, a couple of months after the book first appeared the previous December (Paulson iii, 144). However, the anonymous lines had seen print right at the beginning of the controversial reception, being published in the Public Advertiser of 18 December 1753, coincidentally the very same issue that carried the report of the death of John Kirby, Joshua’s father, on the 13th of December.

To Mr HOGARTH

Tho’ Scriblers, Witlings, Connoisseurs revile,

Thy Book shall live an Honour to this Isle:

Exert, once more, thy Analysing Art,

And five the World the Beauty’s Counterpart:

Dissect the Passions which the Works create;

Delineate Envy, Ignorance, and Hate.

 

 

References

Paulson, R. (1991). Hogarth. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Hogarth’s Disciple

Another of Paul Sandby’s satires against William Hogarth and his line of beauty in 1753 was The Analyst Besh-n in his own Taste.

Joshua Kirby is the alarmed figure on the right, identified in the caption as `a Disciple droping the Palate and Brushes thro’ concern for his Masters forlorn State’.

It is probably worth noting that none of this prevented Paul Sandby and his brother Thomas from both subscribing to Kirby’s Method of Perspective.

Hogarth’s Fiddler

When William Hogarth published his book, Analysis of Beauty, in late 1753, he was swiftly subjected to an astonishingly virulent satirical print campaign by Paul Sandby, one of the most accomplished satirical artists of the time after Hogarth himself. Well-known as a close associate of Hogarth, Joshua Kirby was depicted in several of these prints. In the one below the fiddler standing on the stage behind the “Mountebank” Hogarth is usually identified as Kirby.

The caption reads, in part, “W: his Fidler standing in the Line of Beauty”.

Click through to the British Museum site for a larger image.