“I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies, I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!”*

*from “The Modern Major-General’s Song”, a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.

Image: Zoffany House, 65 Strand on the Green, W4 (detail: “In that same year, 1818, Caspar Wistar died, but he did gain a certain unexpected immortality when a botanist named Thomas Nuttall named a delightful climbing shrub after him. Some botanical purists still insist on spelling it wistaria.” Bill Bryson (2003).)

From Historic England entry:

Commenced circa 1704. Brown brick, red brick dressings. 3 storeys, 5 double- hung sashes in architrave with rubbed flat arches. Doorway: fluted Roman Doric pilasters, entablature with triglyphs and guttae to architrave and frieze, fanlight. Terra cotta lion over doorway. Parapet. Wrought iron gate and railings. Interior – Early C18 panelling to main ground and 1st floor rooms, otherwise altered 1936. John Zoffany lived here 1790-1810. Graded II* for both historical and architectural interest. RCHM. NMR.”

Kathleen Judges and Christopher Knight, in the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2, 1981: “Who Was Who At Strand on the Green”:

“Born in Germany, Zoffany came to England and settled in London in 1760. About this time he was introduced to George III and was commissioned to paint a number of royal portraits. He rented London Stile House between 1764 and 1772 and was appointed a member of the Royal Academy in 1769. He spent much of the 1770s in Italy, but returned to Chiswick in 1779 and rented No 69 Strand on the Green. His wife and family remained here while he was in India in the 1780s; on his return he bought No 69 in 1790. He made considerable improvements to this house, intending it to be his permanent home. Soon afterwards he acquired Nos 66-69 as houses to let.”

Terry Riggs wrote for Tate.org.uk in October 1997:

“Known primarily as a painter of portraits, conversation pieces and theatrical subjects, Zoffany was born Johannes Josephus Zauffaly, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, in 1733. The son of an architect and court cabinet maker, he was brought up at the court of Alexander Ferdinand, Prince von Thurn und Taxis, and enjoyed court patronage throughout his career. When the Prince took up residence at Regensburg, Johan was apprenticed to a local painter, Martin Speer (c.1702-65). Upon completion of his apprenticeship, he made the first of two trips to Rome in 1750, studying with the portrait painter Masucci. On a second trip a short time later, he made the acquaintance of Piranesi. 

Zoffany arrived in England around 1760 but, hindered in part by his poor English, initially was obliged to take work for the clockmaker Stephen Rimbault, painting scenes for clock-faces. He then worked in the studio of Benjamin Wilson (1721-88), a minor portraitist, as a drapery painter. His career in England was established when the actor-manager David Garrick became his first major English patron. Zoffany painted four conversation pieces of the Garrick household in 1762, as well as numerous theatrical pictures which brought him to the attention of the public and, more importantly, Queen Charlotte, who became his patron. 

Zoffany exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1762 to 1769. He was nominated by George III for membership in the Royal Academy in 1769, exhibiting there from 1770 to 1800. Between 1772 and 1778 he worked primarily in Florence, where he painted The Interior of the Tribuna at Florence (Royal Collection). He returned to London in 1779 but, after a falling out with the King and Queen over his Tribuna, went to India in 1783, remaining until 1789. By 1809, according to the diarist Farington in his entry for 14 March of that year, ‘Zoffany’s faculties were gone. He is become childish’ (Kathryn Cave (ed.), The Diary of Joseph Farington, IX, New Haven and London 1982, p.3421). He died in 1810 at his home at Strand-on-the-Green and is buried in Kew Churchyard.”

Janet McNamara writes for Brentford TW8.com:

“He and his family moved to a house on Strand on the Green now called Zoffany House and while living there he painted a picture of Christ’s Last Supper which he presented to St Anne’s Church on Kew Green. It was not accepted. A number of reasons have been suggested that include local fishermen having been used as models for the disciples, that St Peter was a self portrait or that Judas bore a striking resemblance to the Churchwarden at St Anne’s Church. We’ll probably never be sure.

The painting was then presented to St George’s Church in Old Brentford where it formed the altarpiece and was transferred to their new church in 1887. This is the building with the tower opposite Waterman’s Park. When GE Bate was writing in 1948 he pointed out that the painting was dull and dirty probably due to its age and the fact that it was next door to the gasworks and that the building was still lit by gas. He pointed out that it was in need of cleaning, restoring and some protection. When the church was closed in 1959 the picture was transferred to St Paul’s Church where it was cleaned, repaired and re-hung after the restoration and rebuilding of that church in 1991.

Zoffany died in 1810 and is buried in St Anne’s churchyard with his tomb easily visible from the South Circular Road. His paintings have been valued for many years as historical records of life in the 18th century but he is now also appreciated for the charm of his work and recognised as an artist who brought new life to the conversation piece.

Examples of this genre are The Sharp Family who in the picture are holding a musical party on the Thames at Fulham and one of John Wilkes and his daughter, Mary which hang in the 18th century gallery at the National Portrait Gallery. Both pictures feature a shaggy golden dog which it seems was Zoffany’s dog Roamer who accompanied him when he was painting and can be seen featured in some of his other pictures. A good selection of his paintings…can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery.”

Ruma Chakravarti writes at https://rumachak.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/johann-zoffany-cockfighting-a-transvestite-magistrate-and-that-last-supper/

“…After (Warren) Hastings was recalled to England in 1785, Zoffany lost his position as artist of note again as people associated him with the dishonoured Hastings. During this period, he painted the most unusual altar piece for St John’s Church (modelled on St Martin-in-the-Fields of London) or Pathurey Girja in Calcutta (Kolkata). This version of the Last Supper might have been another of Zoffany’s satires as it depicts 13 members of fashionable Anglo-Indian society as Christ and his disciples, including a transvestite police magistrate W.C. Blacquiere as St John, a Greek priest Father Parthenio as Christ and the auctioneer William Tulloh as Judas. This did not sit well at all with the new middle class proprieties of the Cornwallis administration. Zoffany stayed in Calcutta only till 1787. He then returned to Lucknow and left India for the final time in 1789.

“The painting is not an exact replica of Leonardo’s masterpiece,” one modern-day Indian scholar has noted…”

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