John Stuart, 3rd
Earl of Bute commissioned this portrait of three of his daughters as a pair with one of three of his sons (Tate, T07863). This is the only known pair of portraits of children by Zoffany. The artist came to England from his native Germany in 1760 and soon found important patrons, including the actor David Garrick and the Earl of Bute. He established himself in London as the leading painter of lively conversation pieces, which were greatly admired for their relaxed and charming informality. Zoffany’s strengths lay in his ability to portray figures in vivid interaction, often posed out of doors in convincing landscape settings; characteristics that are clearly apparent in this portrait.
The Earl of Bute was one of Zoffany’s earliest and most important patrons. As well as this portrait and its pair, he commissioned a full-length of his heir, John, Lord Mountstuart, later 1st Marquess of Bute, in Masquerade Dress, c.1763-4 (private collection). The 3rd Earl was a great patron of the arts and formed an important collection, including paintings, prints and books. He was a close advisor and later favourite Prime Minister to the young King George III, although he resigned from that position in 1763, at around the time the Bute portraits were painted. Nevertheless he remained one of the most powerful aristocrats in Britain. It was probably Lord Bute who, following this commission, introduced Zoffany to the King and Queen, initiating a highly successful period of Royal patronage for the artist.
The compositions of both pendant portraits are carefully contrived geometric designs. Here, the diagonal arrangement complements the pyramidal compositional structure used for the brothers’ portrait. The landscape setting for both paintings is the park at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, which had become a family seat in 1763. The Palladian Lodge seen on the right was probably a feature from Old Luton, destroyed when the house and grounds were later remodelled by Lord Bute. It was also recorded in one of a series of views of Luton by Paul Sandby (Bute collection sale, Christie’s 3 July 1996). It adds a specific element to the landscape background, in contrast to Zoffany’s more usual imaginary or idealised backdrops. The artist has paid close attention to detail and texture, particularly in the delicate foliage and the sumptuous fabrics of the girls’ dresses.
Lady Victoria Manners and G.C. Williamson, Johan Zoffany R.A His Life and Works 1735-1810, 1920, p.186
Sacheverell Sitwell, Conversation Pieces, London 1936, p.39, reproduced pl. 49
Mary Webster, Johan Zoffany 1733-1810, National Portrait Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1977, no. 21, reproduced
Tate Report 2000 - 2002, pp.60-61, reproduced
NACF Review 2002, reproduced