Painted in 1762, the present picture is a key commission from one of Zoffany's most important patrons. Until identified by John Harris (op.cit.), it was for many years the 'missing' fourth picture from the set commissioned by Garrick showing the celebrated actor and his family in the grounds of his villa at Hampton on the Thames. It is also one of the artist's earliest conversation pieces - a genre which was soon to make him the most sought-after painter of family groups in eighteenth-century London.
Zoffany had come to England from Germany in 1760, seeking artistic and professional preferment, lured by the greater opportunities available to ambitious and talented artists in London. Initially painting decorative scenes on clock faces for the Huguenot clockmaker, Stephen Rimbault, he then worked as a drapery painter in the studio of the portraitist Benjamin Wilson. By 1762 he had evidently caught the eye of Garrick who broke Zoffany's engagement to Wilson's studio and bought out the remainder of his apprenticeship, writing to Wilson: 'I shall do [your] German friend all ye good offices in my Power; he was warmly recommended to me by my Acquaintance, is a man of Merit and well behaved in my family.' (The Letters of David Garrick, ed. D.M. Little & G.M. Kahrl, I, 1963, p.363.) This provides an insight into the artist's relationship with the Garrick family, reflected in the intimacy of his depictions.
Garrick commissioned four pictures of his family in the garden of his country retreat, Hampton House, of which this painting is one. They were to be hung in his town house at Adelphi Terrace as symbols of his material success and assertions of his gentlemanly status. Off-stage and on, Garrick was a master of self-dramatisation, and Zoffany's paintings became an important tool in the portrayal of both the private and public man. As well as the Hampton pictures, Garrick commissioned several theatrical paintings, the first of many images of the actor 'en role' that would be reproduced as popular prints for the next half century.
Garrick acquired his Thames-side villa at Hampton in 1754. Its position was fashionable in part because of the proximity of Hampton Court Palace, and the banks of the Thames to the west of London were sufficiently far from the city to provide a pastoral sanctuary, whilst being close enough to entertain the urban elite with ease. The King's road from Westminster took carriages from London to Hampton Court, cutting through the grounds of Garrick's villa. The one disadvantage of this was that the road separated the house from its riverside lawns. Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, renowned landscape architect and neighbour, advised that a tunnel be dug under the road as a conduit, reminiscent of poet Alexander Pope's earlier version at Twickenham. This allowed easy access to the riverside and prompted Garrick's friend and critic Dr Johnson to tease, 'David, David, what can't be overdone may be underdone'.
The edge of this grotto-like tunnel can be seen to the left of the present painting, a jumbled mass of flinty stones and feathery vegetation. It forms the visual link to the companion picture, A view of Hampton House and Garden with Garrick writing (Egremont Collection, see J. Harris, op.cit., no. 303a). In this pendant piece, the opposite end of the tunnel can be seen in the distance behind Garrick, who sits in the foreground. It is an apt visual device, suturing two seemingly disconnected views in the manner of the tunnel itself. Similarly, one of the larger pairing of pictures from this group depicts an architectural folly within the actor's garden (Mr and Mrs Garrick by the Shakespeare Temple at Hampton, 1762). Garrick had built an Arcadian 'Temple to Shakespeare' a hundred or so metres to the right of the grotto. It was as much a tribute to himself by professional association as it was to Shakespeare (see figs. 2 and 3).
There is the quality of a dramatic backdrop to the picture of The Misses Garrick at Hampton. The vast expanse of sky thickly crowded with clouds, the use of light and shadows and the way the ground curves down to the point where the two girls stand, trees looming large to the left and right, create a setting that is grand and intimidating. The landscape is freely painted, the trees perhaps owing more to artistic imagination than reality. The vista in the distance is a loosely painted glimpse of eighteenth-century Surrey, where a flock of sheep is represented by deft daubs of cream paint, with a diminishing hedge of trees and hills revealing an expanding and enticing rural scene.
The boats on the river, one carrying a cargo of timber, indicate a movement and vitality of river life that is contrary to the still pose of the children. They stand with hands clasped in warmth and complicity. Though formally placed, their arrangement suggests the informality of play. Both are painted with an exquisite detail that contrasts with the spontaneously executed background. The two eldest daughters of Garrick's brother George, Arabella, (1753-1819), and Catherine, (1756-?), here present a poignant vision of the immediate family life that Garrick lacked. (He and his wife, the Viennese dancer Eva Maria, or 'la Violette', were to remain childless). Of Zoffany's quartet of paintings at Hampton, this is the one work in which Garrick does not appear.
Zoffany's detailed depiction of the children's paraphernalia, with their 'training sashes' and play-aprons, the coral ribbons in their head-dresses and the smaller child's clutching of a doll in a dress of white silk, suggests the doll-like qualities of the little girls themselves. This would be echoed ten years later in the artist's painting of Queen Charlotte with Members of her Family (1771-2), where the Princess Royal also holds a figurine, this time in a blue silk dress and period wig, possibly an effigy of her mother. The doll in both paintings serves as a symbol of family status, as well as female childhood.
Zoffany was the favoured artist to the court of King George III by the time of Garrick's death in 1779. Both men had achieved the fame they sought within their artistic fields. Garrick was the first actor to be buried in Westminster Abbey, previously unthinkable, but now an appropriate resting place for a man who was ambitious to secure an exalted position within society. Zoffany had helped to define this role for Garrick, beginning with his paintings of the actor's family and home. His portrayal of The Misses Garrick at Hampton offers a vision of continuity through a future generation, as well as showing Garrick's ownership of a vivid, theatrical and pastoral idyll on the edge of an urban world.
It was not until after the death of Garrick's widow in 1822, at the age of 98, that the contents of his estate were dispersed in sales at Christie's. On 23 June 1823 the four Hampton pictures were sold in pairs as lots 51 and 52 (see fig. 1).