Johan Zoffany

Stephen Rimbault


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Johan Zoffany 1733–1810
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 889 × 711 mm
frame: 1055 × 840 × 80 mm
Bequeathed by Mrs Aslett 1929


Stephen Rimbault (working 1744-88) was a famous clock maker of Huguenot descent, particularly noted for his 'twelve-tuned Dutchmen', clocks which played twelve tunes, with moving figures in front of decorated backgrounds. He did business in Great Andrew's Street, St Giles.

After Zoffany's arrival in England around 1760 he had difficulty finding work as a portrait painter, hindered in part by his poor English. He was living, almost destitute, in the garret of a house in Short's-gardens, Drury Lane, belonging to an Italian musical box maker named Bellodi, who worked for Rimbault pricking the barrels for the musical clocks. Bellodi introduced Zoffany to the clock maker, who employed Zoffany to paint clock faces. According to family tradition, Rimbault brought Zoffany to the attention of Benjamin Wilson, a minor portraitist who, admiring Zoffany's figurative work on the clock faces, offered him the post of drapery and figure painter at a salary of forty pounds a year. Through Wilson Zoffany met the actor-manager David Garrick, who became Zoffany's first major English patron. Zoffany is said to have made this portrait in gratitude to Rimbault.

The picture always remained in the Rimbault family, passing from the sitter to his nephew Stephen Francis Rimbault, an organist, collector of Rowlandson's drawings and friend of Samuel Wesley, who in the 1820s had the painting hanging over the chimney-piece in the front parlour of his house at 9 Denmark Street, Soho, London. He left the picture to his son Edward Francis Rimbault, musical author and antiquary. He passed it to his godson E. Rimbault Dibdin, whose daughter Mrs Alfred Aslett bequeathed it to the Tate Gallery.

Further reading:
John Thomas Smith, ed. Wilfred Whitten, Nollekens and his Times, London and New York, 1829, II, pp.67-9
Mary Webster, Johan Zoffany 1733-1810, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 1976, p.35, reproduced

Terry Riggs
January 1998

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