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The Sharp Family

1 of 6 portraits of William Sharp

The Sharp Family, by Johan Joseph Zoffany, 1779-1781 - NPG L169 - Private collection; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London

Private collection; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London

The Sharp Family

by Johan Joseph Zoffany
oil on canvas, 1779-1781
45 1/2 in. x 49 1/2 in. (1156 mm x 1257 mm)
Lent by Trustees of the Lloyd-Baker Settled Estates, 1978
Primary Collection
NPG L169


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  • Johan Joseph Zoffany (1733-1810), Painter of portraits and conversation pieces. Artist associated with 46 portraits, Sitter associated with 11 portraits.

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The remarkable Sharp family gave fortnightly concerts as an orchestra from the 1750s onwards. This conversation piece, one of Zoffany's masterpieces, commemorates the concerts they gave on board their sailing barge Apollo at Fulham. The work was commissioned from Zoffany by William Sharp, surgeon to George III. Sharp is seen standing at the tiller, hat raised, wearing the Windsor uniform with its distinctive red collar; his instruments are the French horns which rest on the piano. Of his three brothers, Dr John Sharp is on the right and has laid his cello aside for the moment; Granville Sharp, the famous philanthropist and slavery abolitionist, holds his favoured flageolets in one hand, his clarinet being nearby on the piano; while James Sharp, an engineer, holds the serpent. The three Sharp sisters complete the orchestra: Elizabeth at the piano, Judith with music in hand and, above to the right, Frances with a theorbo or perhaps an angelica.

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Current affairs

Admiral Augustus Keppel, First Lord of the Admiralty during the final years of the American War of Independence is tried and acquitted at court martial of misconduct at the Battle of Ushant the previous year. His case becomes a cause célèbre. Botanist Joseph Banks tells a committee of the House of Commons that the east coast of Australia is suitable for the transportation of convicted felons. Penitentiary Act authorises state prisons.

Art and science

Swiss artist Henry Fuseli settles in London after nine years in Rome. Painter and President of the Royal Academy Joshua Reynolds' celebrated Discourses on art are published as a book. World's first iron bridge is assembled across the Severn at Coalbrookdale.Inventor Samuel Crompton introduces the Spinning Mule. John Newton and William Cowper's Olney Hymns is published, containing the first printed version of Amazing Grace.

International

American War of Independence: Spain, in alliance with France and the US, declares war on Britain. Great Siege of Gibraltar begins, in which French and Spanish forces try to wrest power from the established British Garrison, under the leadership of General George Augustus Eliot. Captain James Cook is killed in a skirmish with natives on the Sandwich Islands on his third and final voyage.

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