Sotheby’s To Offer Newly Discovered Painting by Johann Zoffany

Sotheby’s London has announced the recent discovery of a rare and important oil painting by Johann Zoffany among the exquisite collection of furniture and Works of Art from Gianni Versace’s Lake Como Villa, which is to be offered for sale on Wednesday 18th March 2009. Portrait of Major George Maule, Acting Chief Engineer of Madras (1751-1793) (est. £40,000-60,000*), dating from a period that represents the peak of the artist’s output, was previously untraced and uncatalogued despite being part of Versace’s collection for 15 years. Recently attributed to Zoffany by a panel of experts, the work is the only known portrait from a group of four paintings executed during the artist’s brief stay in Madras in 1783, while en route to Calcutta. It therefore represents the earliest known work from his time in India.

Emmeline Hallmark, Sotheby’s Head of Early British Paintings, comments: “What makes the discovery of this important work so exciting is both the period in the artist’s career from which it dates and the stunningly good condition in which it has been brought to light: it was created during the first few weeks of Zoffany’s arrival on the Indian subcontinent, and was only known of through a reference in a surviving letter. Furthermore, works from the artist’s time in India are scarce and rarely survive in such fine condition.”

Johann Zoffany (1733-1810)
Primarily patronised by the British royal family, Johann Zoffany’s works are now housed in a number of the great collections of the world, including the Louvre and the Royal Collection. The artist was born in Germany but moved to England in 1760 where it was his remarkable ability to paint lively figures in vivid interaction, to catch a fleeting expression and to portray a likeness that laid the foundation of his future reputation. Zoffany’s work was favoured by King George III and his commissions included ‘conversation pieces’ and informal portraits of the royal family as well as single portraits or groups of two sitters. His works were exhibited at the Society of Artists and later the Royal Academy where his The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-2) caused a sensation, but despite his success at court and his prominence as an academician, at the height of his success he became restless and set off on his travels, first to Italy and later to India where he was able to capitalise on the patronage of members of the East India Company.

The only evidence of the painting’s existence until now
En route to Calcutta in 1783, Zoffany spent five weeks in Madras where he was quick to take advantage this brief opportunity by accepting four commissions. Prior to now, none of the Madras portraits had been traced, and the only evidence of their existence was a reference in a letter of introduction from Governor Macartney to Wiliam Dunkin, an Irish lawyer and friend of Macartney’s who was then practicing in Calcutta. The letter reads as follows: “My dear Sir, I beg leave to introduce to you by this letter my friend Baron Zoffani, who is I believe without dispute the greatest Painter that ever visited India, unless Alexander bought Appelles with him in order to draw the Porus family, of which I hear from good authority that the Ranah of Gohud is a lineal descendant. You know how little means this settlement affords for encouragement of the fine arts. Except Mr Stowey the Vitruvius of the Carnatick, and his fair partner, your Durbar acquaintance Major Maule and the doubtful Governor of Madras, I don’t believe Mr Zoffani has flourished his pencil for any others. The glorious field of Bengal remains open for him and there he may display to great advantage his fort for character…”

Sotheby’s sale of property from Gianni Versace’s Lake Como Villa
Johann Zoffany’s painting will be offered for sale as part of the auction of Gianni Versace’s impressive collection of continental furniture, sculpture and silver works and 18th and 19th century paintings from his home on the shores of Lake Como on Wednesday 18th March 2009. One of fashion’s most internationally celebrated designers, Versace’s style and creative flair was exemplified in the stunning neo-classical interior design of his villa. He set out to create his own personal Arcadia at Villa Fontanelle and the result was the recreation of a magnificent interior of the neo-classical and empire style, with careful attention paid to every detail, from the furniture to the spectacular mosaic floors and panelling. The 550 lots are expected to fetch in excess of £2 million. Prior to the sale Sotheby’s will recreate highlights of certain rooms of the villa in its New Bond Street galleries – capturing Versace’s eye for beauty and careful arrangement, from his choice of furniture down to the sumptuous bedding and soft furnishings – to evoke the spectacular setting from which the works to be offered for sale originate.

Sotheby’s European Deputy Chairman responsible for Single-Owner Collections, Mario Tavella, comments: “It is a great pleasure to orchestrate this remarkable sale of such a maverick of style whose taste and influence is epitomised in the Villa Fontanelle collection. This is the last opportunity to enter into Versace’s world and buy something from a collection that is representative of his legacy.”