The Sharp Family
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
On display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery
Artistback to top
- Johan Joseph Zoffany (1733-1810), Painter of portraits and conversation pieces. Artist associated with 46 portraits, Sitter associated with 11 portraits.
Sittersback to top
- Mary Lloyd-Baker (née Sharp) (1778-1812), Daughter of William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Elizabeth Prowse (née Sharp) (1733-1810), Sister of Granville and William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Ann Jemima Sharp (1762-1816), Daughter of John Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Catherine Sharp (née Lodge) (born 1735), Later wife of James Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Catherine Sharp (née Barwick) (1741?-1814), Wife of William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Catherine Sharp (1770-1843), Daughter of James Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Frances Sharp (1738-1799), Sister of Granville and William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Granville Sharp (1735-1813), Scholar and philanthropist. Sitter in 7 portraits.
- James Sharp (1730-1783), Ironmaster; brother of Granville and William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- John Sharp (1723-1792), Archdeacon of Northumberland. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Judith Sharp (1733-1809), Sister of Granville and William Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- Mary Sharp (née Dering) (1720-1798), Wife of John Sharp. Sitter in 1 portrait.
- William Sharp (1729-1810), Surgeon to George III. Sitter in 5 portraits.
This portraitback to top
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.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner : British painting and the rise of modernity, 2014, p. 191 number 45
- Audio Guide
- Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 46
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 136
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 145
- Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 75 Read entry
This tour de force of a conversation piece was painted for William Sharp, the man at the back of the barge waving his hat, who was surgeon to George III. It depicts one of the regular family concerts given by this musical family, which in the summer were held in a barge on the Thames (Fulham Old Church can be seen in the background), and it remains one of the most vivid pictures of eighteenth-century family life. William’s wife sits in front of him holding their 2-year-old daughter Mary, who, being too young to participate, has in the best traditions of eighteenth-century child portraiture been given a kitten to hold. Sharpe’s brother Grenville, sitting behind the spinet and French horns, was a well-known philanthropist and abolitionist. Their father, Thomas, in the bottom right-hand corner, was Archdeacon of Northumberland.
Zoffany, who was responsible for this feat of organisation and detail (there are eight musical instruments depicted), was born in Germany and, after a creditable start to his career painting late-baroque decorations and religious pieces, decided to try his fortune in England. He arrived in London in 1760 and by 1762 had been taken up by the great actor David Garrick, for whom he painted several family groups and more especially a number of scenes from Garrick’s plays. Zoffany was in a sense able to pick up where Hogarth, who died in 1764, left off, and he took the conversation piece to new heights of sophistication. More coincidentally, like Hogarth with his pugs, he also introduced his own dog, a white German spitz called Poma, into his portraits.
Sharp family tradition had it that the dog became so attached to them that it had to be included in the painting. Exactly the same rather tender view of the recumbent Poma, however, appeared again in Zoffany’s portrait of John Wilkes and his daughter of 1782. It seems likely that Zoffany was inclined to re-use a good motif when he found one, especially if, as seems apparent with the Wilkeses, he found his sitters rather unsympathetic. A white spitz standing on its hind legs appears in at least two Zoffany conversation pieces from the late 1760s, though it seems more likely to be one of Poma’s predecessors.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 742
Subjects & Themesback to top
- Buildings and architecture
- Events and occasions
- Family portraits
- Flags and banners
- Group portraits
- Hats and head attire
- Making music
- On display at the Gallery
- Pets and animals
- Pets and animals - Dogs
- Transport and vehicles
- Transport and vehicles - Boats and ships
Events of 1779back to top
Current affairsAdmiral 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 scienceSwiss 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.
InternationalAmerican 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.
See this portrait
On display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery