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Garrick, Zoffany and … Barber?

23 August 2018

Zoffany, Johann, 1733-1810; David GarrickLast night’s episode of Bendor Grosvenor’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces had us all on the edge of our seats as he investigated a painting once thought to be by Zoffany but since relegated to a series of implausible alternative attributions and identifications. Whether it had anything to do with the musician Charles Burney or indeed with Zoffany’s great patron David Garrick remains sadly undecided, but it prompted me to have a quick look at one of the (many) established portraits of Garrick by Zoffany. This is the 1762/63 portrait now in the Ashmolean Museum (above; photo: The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) of which there are numerous versions,  one c.1763, the others much later. There’s no need for me to discuss it at length, as Mary Webster has done that for us, fascinatingly, at pp. 85ff of her monumental work on the artist. The mask on the left is of course Melpomene (but I think Webster is mistaken in identifying the bearded mask on the right as Thalia – perhaps it is Pan?), and the link to classical drama need not be explained.

But what I think has not been noticed is a possible inspiration of this curious composition – the pastel of Jonathan Swift by the Irish artist Rupert Barber (see my article). This too exists in numerous versions – indeed the NPG have versions both of the Zoffany and of the Barber, as well as two prints after the latter, but the one that probably matters most is that (J.1246.105 in the Dictionary, now in Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania) belonging to Dr Richard Mead when it was engraved in 1751, as that sets a terminus ante quem for the pastel which may or may not have been made in Swift’s lifetime:

Barber Swift Bryn Mawr

Is this purely coincidental? Perhaps, although for me the visual parallel is too close for pure coincidence. Further Garrick had been in Dublin in 1742 – while the Commission on Lunacy was being conducted into Dr Swift’s sanity. Garrick was sufficiently interested in his work to write his own Lilliput: A Dramatic Entertainment in 1756 – more homage than adaptation: but it is inconceivable that he would not have been aware of the engraving of Barber’s striking image, the frontispiece of Lord Orrery’s collection of Swift’s writings. Did Garrick suggest the composition to Zoffany? We shall probably never know.

But there is another equally tantalising idea. Here, in the British Museum,  is the cameo ring that belonged to Dean Swift:


and which may well have prompted Barber’s image (although the addition of the books and leaves derives from Miller’s much more conventional engraving of Bindon’s portrait of Swift). I’m not going to attempt to rehearse the highly complicated Swift iconogoraphy – there are books devoted to that, but I raise the point because I think the jump from cameo to pastel profile (with all the attendant questions of paragone etc.) arises too with another artist at this time – one whom Garrick knew well from the time of his own portrait by him, made in Paris in 1751 (now in Chatsworth), and to the later portraits of his wife (a pendant also in Chatsworth, and a lost pastel), made during Jean-Étienne Liotard’s first London trip. (Garrick had a large number of pastels in his own collection.)

As is well known during that trip (in 1754) Liotard made similar cameo profiles of his patrons Viscount Duncannon (later 2nd Earl of Bessborough – as I shall call him) and Sir Everard Fawkener. These are respectively in the Rijksmuseum and the V&A:

It is assumed that the inspiration for these was the cameo portrait of Duncannon made by Lorenz Natter and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as published by Jonny Yarker in his catalogue note on the version of Bessborough formerly at Welbeck:


But convincing though this connection is, art history is rarely a matter of single-chain causality. An idea resonates when it comes from different directions. Liotard would also have known the Roman cameo of Montesquieu just issued by his friend Dassier (1753):

Dassier fils Montesquiou n

And Garrick, Liotard and Bessborough would probably have been exposed to all these images. As Yarker explains, Bessborough’s interest in gemstones was probably stimulated by his relationship with the Cavendish family (the Liotard Garrick portraits are at Chatsworth): his brother-in-law, the 4th Duke of Devonshire, married the sister of Lord Orrery, Swift’s editor, while at the time of Liotard’s portrait, Bessborough was negotiating the purchase of cameos from Dr Mead’s collection.

There’s far too much material here for a full account in a blog. Perhaps a TV programme at some stage?

Greuze autoPostscript

Without attempting to undertake a comprehensive account, I can’t help showing Greuze’s self-portrait in the Ashmolean (sadly not illustrated on their website) which would take us down a different avenue, but again confirming the breadth of interest in this topic. It was engraved in 1763, and must have been done around the same time as the Zoffany.


From → Art history

  1. I am an admirer of your excellent blog – you might like to take a look at my blog entry – some random notes on the three dimensional representation of Garrick – which is possibly of tangential interest

    • Many thanks…very relevant indeed. I have for some time been planning to write more about Garrick and Liotard, but somehow have never had the time to do so properly. But I thought I’d better get this post out, incomplete though it is, while Zoffany is in the air…

  2. MALCOLM BROWN permalink

    Thank you so much Neil, I am amazed in how quickly you have shared your knowledge and views about this program in such a short time. (All very much appreciated).

    Many Thanks.


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