Johan Zoffany

Three Daughters of John, 3rd Earl of Bute


Not on display

Johan Zoffany 1733–1810
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1012 × 1265 mm
frame: 1268 × 1531 × 70 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax with additional payment (General Funds) made with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and Tate Members 2002


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.

In this animated portrait three of the daughters of the Earl are playing with pet squirrels. On the left is the youngest child, Lady Louisa Stuart (1757-1851), holding up a hazelnut to lure back one of the squirrels, which has become free of its tether. She wears a simple white dress with red shoes, which were fashionable attire for young girls around this date. The older girl, seated in the centre dressed in an elegant coral red gown, is probably Lady Anne Stuart (1746-after 1779). Standing on the wooden garden bench and holding a string attached to the squirrel on the upper branch is Lady Caroline Stuart, (1750-1813). While the boys in the companion picture went on to have illustrious careers, the girls succeeded through making appropriate marriages or by utilising their good education. Louisa went on to become a much-admired writer, and her entertaining letters and biographical memoirs no doubt reflected a literary inheritance from her maternal grandmother, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Anne married in 1764, not long after the portrait was painted, and became Countess Percy and later Mrs. Andrew Corbet, while Caroline became Viscountess Carlow and Countess of Portarlington.

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.

The lively and affectionate treatment of the girls is characteristic of all Zoffany’s paintings of children. In his portraits of the Three Sons and Three Daughters of Lord Bute, the artist stresses the playful and slightly mischievous aspect of childhood, and succeeds in capturing the youngsters’ charm without undue sentiment.

Further Reading
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

Diane Perkins
November 2003

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Display caption

This lively pair of portraits was commissioned by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. It was probably Bute who introduced Zoffany to the King and Queen, commencing a highly successful period of royal patronage for the artist.In the portrait on the right, Bute’s three younger sons have abandoned their game of archery to go bird-nesting. In the companion picture his three daughters play with pet squirrels. The setting for both portraits is Bute’s country estate, Luton Park, Bedfordshire, which he acquired in 1763. These portraits display both Bute’s progeny and his position as an important landowner.

Gallery label, May 2007

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