George Johann Scharf (1788 - 1860)
RA Collection: People and Organisations
The draughtsman and printmaker George Johann Scharf was born in Germany in 1788. He began taking drawing lessons after leaving home at the age of thirteen, and studied at the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences in Munich between 1804 and 1810. In Munich, Scharf became an accomplished miniaturist and exponent of lithography, then a newly-invented form of printmaking.
After leaving the Academy, Scharf travelled Europe in search of commissions, at one point enlisting in the British army and taking part in the battle of Waterloo. In 1816 he travelled to London, where he remained for the rest of his life. He married in 1820, the same year his son George, a future director of the National Portrait Gallery, was born.
Scharf painted throughout his life but made his living from lithography. He was particularly successful as an illustrator for scientific journals (Charles Darwin was one of his employers). The most successful of Scharf’s self-published lithographs was a portfolio of views of London Zoo.
Scharf was a valuable chronicler of Victorian London. He was commissioned by the City corporation to record the building of the New London Bridge, and he made many drawings of the Houses of Parliament site following the great fire of 1834. It was to relieve himself from the tedium of illustration that Scharf wandered the streets of London, making the sketches of London life for which he is best known, and which his wife sold to the British museum in a vast quantity after his death in 1860.