The best known painting at Towneley is Charles Townley and friends in his library at Park Street, Westminster by Johann Zoffany. It was purchased at auction in 1939 and has since been regularly loaned abroad.
The painter Johann Zoffany was born near Frankfurt but moved to England in 1760. By 1764 he was enjoying the patronage of the royal family. His speciality was the 'conversation piece'. a small-scale group portrait showing figures engaged in informal conversation. In 1772 he was commissioned by Queen Charlotte to paint the Tribuna of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. When this work was completed, in 1778, the Queen did not like it and the royal patronage ceased.
Zoffany was a close friend of Charles Townley (1737-1805). He never visited Towneley Hall but was a regular visitor at Charles's house in Park Street, London. He began a painting of Charles Towneley and his friends in the library in Park Street in 1781. It was still unfinished when Zoffany left for India in 1783, but on his return it was completed and displayed at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1790.
At bottom left of the painting is the Discobolus, which Zoffany only added to the painting in the summer of 1798. Zoffany then gave the finished work to Charles as a gift. He intended to sell prints of the work and asked Charles to provide a description of the contents to accompany the intended engraving. In the event there were no prints produced until many years after both their deaths, see The Townley Museum.