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Johann Zoffany in The New Criterion

Post #1513 • February 8, 2012, 8:44 AM • 4 Comments

[Image: Johan Zoffany, Archduke Francis, 1775, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the Yale Center for British Art]

Johan Zoffany, Archduke Francis, 1775, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the Yale Center for British Art

In which I note:

The Yale Center for British Art has set out to rehabilitate the reputation of Johann Zoffany, a German expatriate who became a member of the Royal Academy by appointment of King George III. One might argue that he isn’t better-known for fair reasons. His work is present in few American collections, he altered the spelling of his name several times, and his peripatetic life bewildered later chroniclers of English painting. His contemporaries included Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth, and, although he was an able painter with a gift for the theatrical, he had neither the deft wrist of the former nor the piercing eye of the latter. Yet within the parameters of genre scenes and group portraiture, he produced dozens of striking, original works. His portraits of single figures, if they don’t always rank as masterpieces, are full of puckish verve that makes up for many of their shortcomings.

Read the whole essay at The New Criterion.

Comment

1.

John Link

February 9, 2012, 2:52 AM

Very skilled rendering, little or no muscle in this picture. It's surprisingly empty of the feeling that often comes with well-depicted objects. It isn't even sentimental, so "puckish verve" seems awfully generous, This is one of the most thoroughly drained pictures I've ever looked at. So drained that it does not annoy me at all, though I would not quibble with the connotation of "puckish" that suggests annoyance. But you seem to be playing off the "naughty" side more than "annoyance", which simply escapes me.

As sheer depiction, there may well be some amazement when seen in the flesh. I will not be traveling to New Haven to test that speculation out, though.

One more thing: This picture reminds me of a comment Lynne Munson made to me six or seven years ago. She was talking about the art many of her conservative friends preferred. She said something like, as much as she disliked the postmoderns, they were at least possible players, when compared to this kind of stuff (done by living painters).

2.

Walter Darby Bannard

February 9, 2012, 8:51 AM

Very slick and "frozen," like a well-tended John Currin.

3.

Franklin

February 9, 2012, 1:41 PM

I happen to think that the composition of the painting of the Archduke is running like a well-oiled machine. I'm intrigued by the perspective, which is so low that we're looking at the underside of the chair. And the portrait itself is hardly without merit. Likening it to Currin is a grave and unmerited insult.

By way of defense of my opinions, here are a couple of other images of works mentioned in the essay.

[Image: Johann Zoffany, George III, 1771, oil on canvas, The Zetland Collection]

Johann Zoffany, George III, 1771, oil on canvas, The Zetland Collection

[Image: Johann Zoffany, Self-portrait, 1778, oil on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence/The Bridgeman Art Library]

Johann Zoffany, Self-portrait, 1778, oil on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence/The Bridgeman Art Library

I wish I had an image of the portrait of Mary Thomas, because as I said, it's a ringer. I trust that you'll read the essay in its entirety before commenting further.

4.

Lou Gagnon

February 9, 2012, 7:59 PM

What is striking about this picture is how rigorous the overall structure is, yet the boy defies anatomy. Look at his right leg and the length of his left arm compared to his legs. I asked my son to strike the same pose and he could not hold it for more than a few seconds. Yet the composition aspires to stability. In the same way, George III seems to have hips that don’t connect to the same spine as his rib cage. Perhaps he anticipates Cézanne.

The perspective does indeed raise questions, as the chair and the globe are seen from different views and the boy gets flattened by not sharing the same space. He seems to float.

Everything in this picture is based on the geometry of the rectangle employed except the boy which is forced into the scene, almost as an afterthought. Is that what you mean by “puckish verve?”

[Image: "√2 on the theme of 3"]

"√2 on the theme of 3"

Forgive me, I am not in a position at this time to renew my subscription to The New Criterion, so I have not read your article, and for that matter I have not seen the painting in person.

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