Johann Zoffany, German, 1733-1810
Title: Portrait of George Fitzgerald with his Sons George and Charles
Date: c.1764
Medium: Oil on canvas
98.5 x 123.5 cm
Credit Line: Heritage Gift, John and Bernie Gallagher, 2007
Object Number: NGI.2007.76
DescriptionGeorge Fitzgerald (d.1783) of Turlough Park, County Mayo, is seated in an imaginary landscape, his arm around younger son, Charles Lionel, who was to be his heir. Elder son, George Robert, then at Eton School, flies a kite, a symbol of childhood freedom. Their father wears the captain’s uniform from his time in the Austrian army and sits on a fragment of antique statuary with a warrior. The figure above, of young Hercules strangling the snake, is an allusion to overcoming life’s difficulties.
Zoffany had come to London in 1762 to escape the stifling atmosphere of the Elector of Trier’s court, and came to public attention for his theatrical and domestic scenes painted for actor David Garrick. These revealed his talent for composing figure groups and recording possessions, clothes and pets with exactitude. In 1764-65 he was painting Queen Charlotte and her two elder sons, which may have encouraged this commission from George Fitzgerald to raise his own status in society. Fitzgerald’s marriage to Lady Mary Hervey, of the important Suffolk family, had broken down a decade earlier. The two sons lived with their mother in London, while he led a dissolute life and ran up large debts. Zoffany creates the perfect illusion of a harmonious family, with a sparkling touch to his brushwork.

March 2016

ProvenancePresumed commissioned by George Fitzgerald of Turlough Park, County Mayo; by descent to Lionel Maitland Kirwan, Bengairn Castle, Kilcudbright, Scotland; Christie's, London, 25 June 1900, Lionel Maitland Kirwan Sale, lot 84; purchased by Colnaghi; purchased by Mr Friedlander; bequeathed to Agnes Wellesey, and by descent; Sotheby's, London, 11 June 1990, lot 45; Private Collection, USA; Christie's, London, 14 July 1994, lot 28 (unsold); Private Collection; Sotheby's, London, 22 November 2007, lot 52 (unsold); Heritage Gift, John and Bernie Gallagher, 2007
Exhibition HistoryPossibly the version shown at the Society of Artists, London, 1764
Label TextWearing a captain’s uniform, from his time in the Austrian army, George Fitzgerald of Turlough Park, Co. Mayo sits with his younger son Charles. The older brother George Robert is shown flying a kite. Zoffany creates an illusion of carefree contentment but the reality was quite different. Fitzgerald was separated from his wife Lady Mary Hervey. The two boys lived in London with their mother while their father led a dissolute life. George Robert became a gambler and was eventually hanged for murder.

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