Sir William and his wife Elizabeth are seated in the centre; around them are their nine children and their black servant, or slave, named John Brook. Sir William had family interests in the West Indies and was appointed Governor of the island of Dominica in 1770. This family group was previously thought to have been painted to celebrate this event along with the marriage in the same year of the eldest daughter, Sarah. Significantly she occupies the centre of the composition with a flourishing tree behind her. More recent research, based on the apparent ages of the couple’s sons William (far right) and John (the youngest child on the horse), suggests it may have been painted earlier.


  • Title: The Family of Sir William Young
  • Creator: Johan Zoffany
  • Date Created: About 1767 - About 1769
  • tag / style: Johan Zoffany; portraiture; conversation piece; Van Dyck dress; children; domestic; horse; black servant; slave; John Brook; animals; tree; steps; dog; group; sons; daughter; Sir William Young; cello; lute; flowers; musical instrument
  • Physical Dimensions: w1675 x h1145 cm (Without frame)
  • Artwork History: The painting passed through Sir William Young’s family by descent until 1928.
  • Artist biographical information: The artist was born near Frankfurt in 1733 as Johannes Josephus Zauffaly. In England his name became corrupted into Zoffany. He came to England in 1760. Zoffany became known for theatrical pictures painted for Garrick and for the type of family or group portrait shown here. These paintings are known as ‘conversation pieces’ and the Walker Art Gallery’s ‘Family of Sir William Young’ is a very accomplished example. To learn more about Zoffany’s time in England and to read about another painting by Zoffany in the collection of National Museums Liverpool, at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=7&id=187
  • Additional artwork information: ‘The Family of Sir William Young’ is a conversation piece. Conversation pieces - portraits of two or more members of a family in a domestic setting - were a staple of 18th-century British art and a speciality of Zoffany’s. In the Walker Art Gallery’s painting the family are wearing Van Dyck dress, a fancy costume which became particularly fashionable around 1770 for amateur theatricals and portraits, in homage to the Van Dyck era of the 1630s. This painting was the subject of an ‘Artwork Highlight’ talk at the Walker Art Gallery in 2008. To read the notes from this talk please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=2&id=353 This painting features in ‘Portrait Detectives’ on the National Museums Liverpool website. Please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/nof/portraits/tour3.html To learn more about the Walker Art Gallery’s 18th-century paintings, please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/18c/index2.aspx
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased in 1937

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