May 14, 2012, at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Geological Society, London
The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, will be co-hosting a conference on Monday, May 14, 2012, to accompany a major exhibition on the eighteenth-century Anglo-German artist Johan Zoffany (1733–1810). The exhibition, Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed, is curated by Martin Postle (Paul Mellon Centre), with Gillian Forrester (Yale Center for British Art) and MaryAnne Stevens (Royal Academy); it will be on view at the Yale Center for British Art from October 27, 2011, to February 12, 2012, and at the Royal Academy from March 10 to June 10, 2012. The conference aims to address Zoffany’s art in the context of four locations that were central to his practice: Germany, England, Italy, and India.
Born in Frankfurt in 1733, Johan Zoffany trained as an artist in Germany and Italy. In 1760 he moved to London, where he adapted brilliantly to the indigenous art culture and patterns of patronage, creating virtuoso portraits and subject pictures that proved to be highly desirable to a wide range of patrons. Of all the major artists working in eighteenth-century England, none explored more inventively the complexities of Georgian society and British imperial rule than Zoffany. Yet, despite achieving considerable success there, he remained in many ways an outsider, looking dispassionately at British society. Resisting complete integration into his adopted country, Zoffany traveled for extended periods in Europe and spent six years in northern India. His body of work offers unique perspectives on key British and European institutions, including the art academy, the royal court, the theatre, and the families of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. In India, Zoffany constructed new idioms for portraying the emerging colonial society in both public and private spheres, as well providing a nuanced account of the complex network of power relations, race, and culture at a critical moment in British imperial history.