These two exceptionally rare and beautifully observed paintings represent the fruits of an intimate friendship between England's most famous public figure - celebrity, David Garrick, and the ambitious young and precociously talented contemporary artist Johan Zoffany. They were painted in the summer of 1762 and capture a moment of private pleasure, happiness and relaxation for Garrick and his family on the banks of the Thames at their rural Hampton retreat. Zoffany and the select viewers who were invited to the Garrick's central London home at the Adelphi (where these paintings hung) were given a privileged glimpse of a most public man in his most private time. These are the most important portraits of Garrick ever painted where he is not portrayed in his professional role but presented in an intimate moment as a private man with his family. These paintings are not only historically important as indications of how Garrick wanted to record and immortalise his private life; taking tea with his family and friends, conversing, fishing, and ultimately relaxing away from his professional and public commitments, but also art historically important as they also represent a major landmark in Zoffany's career. Painted not long after his arrival in England they are the first conversation pieces the artist ever produced; it was a genre for which he would later become distinguished in both Britain and India and which a generation of British artists emulated. The success of this commission secured Zoffany's future and reputation as an artist of the first rank and set him on a course that led to Royal patronage and favour. Exquisite examples of the artist's early style in which his genius for compositional originality is instantly recognisable, these paintings were treasured by the Garrick family until their sale in 1823 and subsequently descended in the family of an important early nineteenth century collector of British art. They have hung on loan at Tate Britain since 2007.
The first of these two paintings depicts the famous actor, and manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, surrounded by his family, taking tea by the river Thames in the grounds of their villa at Hampton outside London (Fig. 1). At the table Garrick and his wife sit with a close friend and neighbour, Colonel George Bodens, whilst the family butler Charles Hart, stands in attendance. At their feet are the family pets, a black and white King Charles spaniel belonging to Mrs Garrick called Biddy, playing with a puppy, her husband's own spaniel Phil, who sits beside his master's hat and guards a manuscript, which no doubt contains the latest draft of one of Garrick's own plays. A little separated from the main group by the banks of the river, Garrick's brother stands with a fishing rod in his hands. Beyond, the view extends in an expansive vista looking down river. It is a scene of domestic tranquillity and reflects the informal and yet refined behaviour of the family relaxing and socialising at their exclusive rural retreat. In the second picture, conceived as a pendant and painted only slightly later than the first, the view is reversed and the artist has set his easel at about the spot where the tea table was in the former picture. We again see Garrick and his wife, this time set against the backdrop of Garrick's Shakespeare Temple, designed by Robert Adam and erected in 1755-56 in homage to the great Bard. Just visible inside is Louis-Francois Roubiliac's life sized marble sculpture of Shakespeare. Garrick not only pays tribute to his devotion to the bard Shakespeare but also standing on the steps leaning towards his wife he clearly demonstrates his passionate affection for her. Playing among the columns of the temple is a small boy, probably Garrick's nephew George, the son of Carrington Garrick, whilst entering from the right a servant brings out a tray of tea. The painting is beautifully constructed, with a delicate balance between landscape and architecture. Unlike the expansive view in the Tea Party, the picture is dominated by the temple in the foreground (probably at Garrick's request), yet the view is broad enough to encompass the curving reaches of the northern bank of the Thames as it flows by. Garrick not only pays tribute to his devotion to the bard Shakespeare but also demonstrates his passionate affection for his wife.
David Garrick (1717-1779) was born in Hereford in 1717 and had come to London aged 20 with his friend Dr. Johnson. By 1740 he had had his first play performed and made his debut as an actor in 1741; he managed and became the major shareholder in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (then England's premier playhouse, Fig.2) from 1747 until he retired from the stage in 1776. Garrick became the most famous man of his day, what we term now a celebrity. He was a master of his own self-publicity and took absolute control over his public and private persona. It is probable that no actor at any time has had such a powerful influence on society, on the arts and on his country. "Garrick was the ornament of the age in which he lived, the restorer of dramatic literature, the great reformer of the public taste. In his time the theatre engrossed the minds of men to such a degree that it may now be said that there existed in England a fourth estate: King, Lords, Commons and Drury Lane Playhouse."1 Garrick is the recurring image of the century: he was painted, engraved and sculpted by over thirty artists: a number which included all the great contemporary artists of the day; Gainsborough, Reynolds (Fig. 3), Hogarth (Fig. 4), de Loutherbourg, Wilson, Dance, Hayman, Vandergucht, Batoni and many others. Garrick was portrayed in such an astonishing number of works, that there were even more produced than the reigning monarch George III. In addition to these paintings commissioned for his personal private collection (which nonetheless were intended to be seen by all those invited and entertained at his home, 5 Adelphi Terrace in London), he commissioned numerous engravings, supervising their composition strictly. A number of images, as many as 450 different paintings and engravings have been recorded.2
Clearly a man who revelled in the spot light and thrived on attention, Garrick was a constant performer whether on stage, dining with friends or posing for his portrait. As his childhood friend Dr Johnson commented, "no man was more assiduous in cultivating his image, or so jealous of his reputation." As such Garrick was determined to keep himself in the public eye but only in the most distinguished and appropriately refined way. The appearance of the present paintings on the open market is an exceptionally rare opportunity.
Garrick was a playwright, manager and actor of startling ability and originality. He revolutionised eighteenth century theatre and set a standard which even internationally could not be met. Visitors flocked to the capital to visit the West End for a night at the theatre. One reported that,"the doors of the Royal Drury Lane Theatre opened to the public. Passing through streets in a rough neighbourhood full of garrets, brothels, whores and thieves, liveried servants sent to reserve seats and other theatre-goers pushed and shoved their way through the narrow doors to buy their tickets and grab the best places for the evening's performance. The great attraction, listed in the playbills published in the newspapers and 'puffed' by the management, was a new performance by the theatre's proprietor, manager and star actor, David Garrick and the play was to enjoy the longest run of any in the eighteenth century."3
No description could be further from the presentation of the refined private persona of David Garrick and his family as portrayed by Zoffany in these paintings. Actors then, as today, enjoyed the privilege of behaving on stage in ways which thrilled the audience with their impropriety, but this meant that many theatre-goers, happy to enjoy their performances, also considered them morally compromised. It seemed almost impossible to combine a successful stage career with respectability and extraordinary attention was paid to every aspect of the lives of its most famous players - Garrick included - who even owned shares in the newspaper which published any scandals. As theatre manager Garrick had to defend his profession against moralists and reformers who wanted to shut him down; he needed to win over the public and work within the system of legal controls imposed by the crown. This all had to be achieved when the theatre was evolving from a Court institution shaped by the taste of the monarch and his followers and regulated by his officials, into a commercial business shaped by the taste of a general public. The many corrections and deletions in surviving manuscripts of plays from the period submitted to the official examiner show the extent of state intervention. But, alongside all this, as the major share-owner, Garrick's Drury Lane theatre also had to turn a profit: and it did. David Garrick became a very rich and successful man. Edmund Burke paid tribute to him following Garrick's death, "he raised the character of his profession to the rank of a liberal art, not only by his talents, but by the regularity and probity of his life and the elegance of his manners."
Garrick created this respectable identity by advertising an exemplary private life, the private life of a gentleman, not a Royal figure nor a landed aristocrat but a new class of rich, professional gentlemen. Garrick was clearly proud to be utterly public about his devotion to his family and in particular his wife as these rare portraits demonstrate. Almost without exception portraits of Garrick depict him as the professional actor where Garrick and his wife, the Viennese dancer Eva Maria Violetti, are portrayed within a domestic setting. Ten years earlier, following their recent marriage Garrick had doubted that any artist could capture the happiness and contentment of their domestic situation, humbly writing to the Countess of Burlington, 'I am now sitting very near her, she is over head & Ears in her Family concerns, & it is so vastly, busy and so well pleas'd that I defy all the Painters, Ancient and Modern, to shew Me such a Picture of true domestick Happiness and Content! That I am a part of this Picture, tho the Shade or back ground, to set it off, is my greatest Joy and Satisfaction!' Garrick clearly cultivated his domestic satisfaction and propriety and advertised it to high society.
Garrick was ambitious to mainitain his perfect self-image. He knew that he also had to display the refined attributes of a gentleman - his house at Hampton on the Thames (fig. Mr Garrick's Villa), where he entertained the cream of society, was deliberately a display cabinet of good taste, a little theatre in which he could perform the part of connoisseur and gentleman. Its large library boasted a remarkable collection of plays and fine illustrated books, his print collection had more than 1,000 engraved portraits as well as several series of engravings of world famous works of art. His paintings, more than 200 in all, included works by or attributed to Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Guido Reni, Van Dyck, Watteau, Pietro Perugino and many contemporary British artists. The first house guests at Hampton in 1755 were without question deliberately from the highest echelons of society; the 'Duke of Grafton, Lady Holdernesse, Lord and Lady Rochford, Marquis D'Abreu & Mr Walpole.' The energy which he devoted to securing his standing, (including the commission of these paintings), whilst a tribute to his vivacity and determination, show how difficult it was for actors to become respectable and accepted members of polite high society and just how successful he was.4
Garrick's coup d'etat was to align himself alongside literary royalty by championing the work of arguably the most successful playwright of all time, William Shakespeare. Then as now, the Bard's fame was legendary and at this date he and his works were experiencing an unprecedented revival. Garrick claimed to be the great restorer of the Bard's original words and true meaning, as the Shakespeare Temple, designed by the foremost architect of the day Robert Adam, and the sculptural monument within, designed by the leading sculptor, Francois Roubilliac, make clear. This feature not only dominates the second painting, but, also his relationship with his wife - the representation of their happiness is based on the steps of this illustrious hero of Garrick's. In an ode to him Garrick proclaimed, "To what blest genius of the idle, Shall Gratitude her tribute pay?... Swell the choral song. Roll the tide of harmony along. Let Rapture sweep the strngs, Fame expand her wings, With her trumpet-tongues proclaim the lov'd, rever'd, immortal name, Shakespeare! Shakespeare! Shakespeare!." A poetic epistle published in 1752 (published anonymously but possibly written by Garrick himself) claimed to be written by Shakespeare in Elysium to Mr Garrick at Drury Lane Theatre and unsurprisingly extolled their exceptional relationship: "Thou art my living monument in Thee I could see the best description that my soul could ever wish: perish, vain pageantry, despis'd! Shakespeare revives! In Garrick breathes again!" 5
However, Garrick was not simply willing to rely on tradition; he also deliberately became the successful proponent of a new, daringly different and uniquely more 'natural' style of acting, away from the serious bombast and rhetoric of other actors and managers. Thomas Wilkes described Garrick's King Lear in A General View of the English Stage, 1759; "The spirit which he exerts, the endeavouring to collect all his strength to preserve his dear daughter from the hands of the assassin, are not to be described. His leaning against the side of the scene, panting for want of breath, as if exhausted, and his recollecting the feat, have more force, more strength, and more propriety of character than I ever saw in any other actor." Garrick was not simply willing to rely on tradition for the appropriate representation of his image. As mentioned he patronised only the very best artists of the day, such as William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds. However for the creation of this work, intended for private as well as public consumption, he needed a talented but malleable young artist: Johann Zoffany. Together they created the genre now known as the Conversation Piece. In the eighteenth century the word 'conversation' meant 'intellectual exchange' as well as 'social gathering.' The depiction of a Conversation Piece however, is a piece of acting in as much as it is idealised performance as it contrives to miss a formal event and celebrate instead what appears to be a highly personal and private moment, happiness and contentment. As Joseph Addison explained in 1711, 'true Happiness is of a retired Nature, and an Enemy to Pomp and Noise; it arises in the first place, from the Enjoyment of one's self; and, in the next, from the Friendship and Conversation of a few select Companions.'6 These paintings encapsulate this theory.
Zoffany had just arrived in England (towards the end of 1760) when these paintings were commissioned. His connection to Garrick must have been almost instantaneous. Originally born in Frankfurt, the son of Anton Franz Zauffaly (1699-1771), a court cabinet maker and architect to Alexander Ferdinand, Prince Turn und Taxis, he had previously studied in Regensburg under Martin Speer, before travelling to Italy, where he worked with the great Agostino Masucci, and later Anton Raphael Mengs in Rome. It was in Rome that Zoffany's eyes were first opened to the potential of English patronage, and in the studios of both Masucci and Mengs he was exposed to the eclectic social gathering of cognoscenti that populated that city. In 1757 he returned for a short time to Germany, stopping off in Venice along the way. Though his stay in Venice was brief it proved to be a profoundly influential one, particularly in his encounter with the work of Pietro Longhi (1701-1785). A genre painter, who specialised in depictions of small groups of figures, brought vividly to life through the use of strong contrasting colours, and an interest in detailed costumes, Longhi's influence would not manifest itself until Zoffany came to England. However the impact his work had on the artist can not only be seen in Zoffany's later handling of fabric, and his juxtaposition of colour in his English conversation pieces, but also in the symbiotic relationship he developed with Garrick, a theatrical figure whose relationship with the painter closely mirrored that of Longhi's with the great Venetian actor Carlo Goldoni.
On his arrival in London Zoffany first found employment in the workshop of the Italian clockmaker Stephen Rimbault - painting miniature scenes to decorate his clocks. However he soon moved to Great Russell Street, where he worked in the studio of Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788), who principally employed him as his chief drapery painter; a degrading experience for an artist of his precocious talent. Wilson was a less than dedicated artist, and in 1769 gave up painting to pursue his interest in science as a member of the Royal Society. Despite this, he had trained in Hudson's studio, along with the young Joshua Reynolds, and was well connected within the artistic community that was centred around London's West End. Most importantly for Zoffany however he was an amateur actor, and for a time, manager of the Duke of York's theatre in St. James's. As such one of his most important clients, a friend and frequent visitor to his studio, was David Garrick. It is not entirely clear how Zoffany became acquainted with Garrick, but one tale is that he first met the great actor on a visit to Wilson's studio. Recognising Garrick's wife, Eva Maria Veigel, an actress he had greatly admired in earlier days, Zoffany is said by some sources to have presented himself to her, and was in turn presented to her husband. The episode may well be apocryphal however and it has also been suggested that he was recommended to Garrick by a mutual associates who had recently sat to Zoffany, Richard Neville Aldworth, or the distinguished naturalist Benjamin Stillingfleet. Both men were old friends of Garrick's, and it is possible that, knowing the actor was looking for a young artist to replace the ageing Hogarth in a collaborative professional relationship, they suggested Zoffany.
By early 1762, Garrick had commissioned Zoffany to paint a scene from his play The Farmer's Return (Private Collection) with Garrick himself in the role of the Farmer. The painting was a revelation, and a proved hugely popular with the public when it was exhibited at the Society of Artists exhibition later that year. Its success, in achieving the publicity that Garrick desired, immediately established Zoffany's reputation and confirmed to his patron that he had found an artist who could demonstrably enhance his profile, and that of his Drury Lane theatre company. Garrick took the artist from Wilson's studio and moved him into his home to live with his family, despite the Wilson's objections to losing an exceptionally skilled drapery painter. In the summer of 1762 Zoffany join the Garricks at their villa in Hampton-on-Thames, and it was here that the concept of a conversation piece of his patron and his family arose and these works were created. A letter from Garrick to Benjamin Wilson indicates his new position; 'he [Zoffany] was warmly recommended to me by my acquaintance, is a man of merit and well behaved in my family; and that my right honourable neighbour is not the only nobleman that will employ him through my means; an therefore he will be now at Liberty to begin the Conversation Piece he mentions, I rely on his fancy to make it a most Excellent Picture, & I shall Endeavour in my way but at a humble distance to prepare a proper Companion for it.'7
Zoffany's paintings for Garrick caught the attention of the Royal Family and many of the leading aristocracy in Europe and started the fashion for an entirely new genre of British Art, through which we catch a glimpse of how these historic figures wished to be seen in their private persona. Zoffany's talent remained unsurpassed and his distinctive style is instantly recognisable. The recent publication of a comprehensive account of his life and art by Mary Webster, in addition to the recent opening of the Zoffany Exhibition at the Paul Mellon Centre, Yale and subsequently at the Royal Academy in London demonstrate the current reappraisal which this artist is undergoing. Rarely found on the open market today, almost without exception every single time a masterpiece by Zoffany is offered it sets a new world record. The last two comparable pictures to have been offered are; The Family of the 14th Lord Willoughby de Broke (Fig. 5) which was bought by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for the then astonishing sum of £3,000,000 in 1989 and The Dutton Family which Sotheby's sold to a private collector in 2001 for just over £3,200,000.
1. See Arthur Murphy, Biography of David Garrick, 1801
2. J. Brewer, lit. op. cit, 1997, p. 416
3. Description of the audience arriving for the 1769 production of Garrick's play The Jubilee a celebration of William Shakespeare. J Brewer, lit.op,.cit., 1997, p. 325;
4. There are numerous publications which list and discuss Garrick's achievements but perhaps the most useful are Thomas Davies, Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, 2 vols, London 1780 and G W Stone and G M Kahrl, David Garrick: A Critical Biography, Illinois 1979 as well as D Garrick, The Letters of David Garrick, D Little and G Kahrl ed., Oxford, 1963.
5. As quoted in J. Brewer, lit op cit, 1997, p. 41-
6. Spectator Magazine, no. 115, 17 March 1711
7. As quoted in The Private Correspondence of David Garrick, W T Whitely, London 1928, vol. I, p. 251
A pair, both oil on canvas, held in their original eighteenth century carved and gilded Carlo Maratta frames, with early nineteenth century aggrandisements
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Royal Mining Engineering and Industrial Exhibition; Fine Arts Section, 1887, no. 1 (both);
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Palace of Art, North East Coast Exhibition, 1929 (The Garden at Hampton House);
London, 25 Park Lane, English Conversation Pieces, 1930, nos. 107 & 151;
London, Royal Academy, British Art, 1934, no. 248 (The Garden at Hampton House);
Paris, Musee des Arts Décoratifs, Pavillon de Marsan, Exhibition of English Manners and Humour, 1938, no. 163 (The Garden at Hampton House);
London, Arts Council, British Sporting Painting, 1974, no. 65 (The Garden at Hampton House);
London, Arts Council, The Georgian Playhouse, 1975, nos. 82 & 83;
London, National Portrait Gallery, Johann Zoffany, 1733-1810, 14th January – 27th March 1977, nos. 11 & 12;
London, Tate Gallery, on loan 2007-2010 (both)
Each 99.7 by 125cm.; 39 ¼ by 49 ¼ in.
Mrs C. Parsons, Garrick and his Circle, London 1906, p.148;
Lady V. Manners and Dr. G. C. Williamson, John Zoffany RA, 1920, pp. 194 & 195;
G. C. Williamson, English Conversation Pictures of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century, London 1931, p. 20, pl. LVII & LVIII;
S. Sitwell, Conversation Pieces, A Survey of English Domestic Portrait and their Painters, London 1936, pp. 34-36, pl. 38 & 39;
C. Oman, David Garrick, Bungay 1958, pp. xiii, 187-8, & illus. opposite pp. 260 & 310;
D. M. Little and G. M. Kahrl (eds.), The Letters of David Garrick, Cambridge, Mass. 1963, Vol. I, p. 363, and Vol. III, illus. opposite p. 1105;
M. Praz, Conversation Pieces; A Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe & America, London 1971, p. 121, figs, 274 & 275;
A Kendall, David Garrick, London 1985, p.87;
E. D. H. Johnson, Paintings of the British Social Scene, London 1986, p. 62, fig. 32;
J. Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination, London 1997, chpt., 4;
R Strong, The Artist & The Garden, New Haven and London, 2000, pp. 265-266, fig. 329;
K. Retford, The Art of Domestic Life, Family Portraiture in Eighteenth Century England, New Haven & London 2006, p. 76, pl. 54;
P. Treadwell, Johan Zoffany, London 2009, pp. 66-67, 68-70, 79 & 154-155;
M. Webster, Johan Zoffany, New Haven and London 2011, pp. 76-84, illus. pls. 81 and 82
Commissioned by David Garrick (1717-1779) in 1762;
his widow's sale, London, Christie's, 23rd June 1823, lots 53 & 54 (bt. Seguier on behalf of a private collector);