Thank you so much for having me!
A few years ago, while working towards my art degree, I signed up for a class called Women in Art in Culture to fulfil a requirement towards my art history minor. I wasn’t certain what would be covered, but once the class began, I was fascinated by the strong and perservering women we studied. I still am and when I happen upon a painting by one of the wonderful artists, I tend to take a bit longer to admire the work of a woman who had to be immensely talented and willing to stand up to the social mores of the time to be recognised.
I even like to give a nod to a different artist when I write my novels by naming a modiste after a famous French artist such as Elizabeth Vigee-LeBrun, Madame Labille-Guiard, or Francoise Du Parc. A subtle nod and a small thing compared to their accomplishment, but just a bit of fun for me.
For today’s post, however, I decided to venture away from the French artists, and decided to share a quick overview of Angelica Kauffmann. I had never heard of her prior to the class, but each time I find a painting of hers in a National Trust house or a museum, I am reminded again of her incomparable talent.
Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and John Constable are probably more familiar the average art buff than Angelica Kauffmann, yet Kauffmann was incredibly talented and produced art during the same time period, bucking convention and painting what she wished rather than what was expected of her as a woman, making her a founding member of the British Royal Academy and a sought-after portraitist in London.
Women from the beginning had a difficult time making a name for themselves in the art world. After the Renaissance, the French Royal Academy established what they called the “Hierarchy of Genres,” which prioritized certain types of paintings over others and establishing an order of importance of subject matter. The Royal Academy deemed histories the highest since they dealt with great events in human history as well as religion followed by portraiture, genre paintings (scenes of every day life), landscape, and still life. Believe it or not, this also made it more difficult for women to become a successful artist because acceptable subjects for ladies (still life and animals) were low on the Hierarchy of Genres, not to mention many ladies used watercolour, which was not considered a medium by the establishment of the time—it was considered craft.
Angelica Kauffman was born in Switzerland in 1741 and was considered a child prodigy. Her father and painter Johann Joseph Kauffmann, whose work consisted of murals and portraits, trained Kauffmann as she travelled through Switzerland, Italy, and Austria as his assistant.
Kauffmann, however, began achieving recognition in her own right during a three-year stay in Italy when she began painting histories and portraits, earning her an election to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca at the age of twenty-three.
Kauffmann’s success in painting histories is part of what makes her so interesting. While Kauffman was said to have studied from classical statues, women were not allowed to attend life-drawing classes. These classes, which featured nude models and were strictly attended only by men, were thought to offend the sensibilities of a lady. For most, this restriction limited the artist’s training and for some, the ability to paint a history or a great portrait. Kauffmann didn’t allow this to limit her, and instead, focused her work mostly on female subjects from mythology and classical history.
Portrait of Lady Foster
In 1766, Kauffmann moved to London where she gained popularity as a portrait painter to the aristocracy and also to a few royal patrons. During this time, Kauffmann and Mary Moser were the only two female artists among the founding members of the Royal Academy in London. The painting below, by Johann Zoffany, shows the founding members of the Royal Academy having a life-drawing session with two nude men as models. Note that Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffmann are not present among the men, but are depicted as paintings on the wall. Since the practice was not allowed in reality, they could not portray it in art, so two wonderful female artists are relegated to being works of art themselves.
Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy
After a successful fifteen-year stay in London, Angelica Kauffmann returned to Italy with her husband, painter Antonio Zucchi. When she died in 1807, the famous sculptor Antonio Canova directed her funeral, basing it on the funeral of Raphael. A compliment indeed!
Just a few places I have found Angelica Kauffman paintings around England:
Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (later Lady Bess Foster) by Angelica Kauffmann can be found at Ickworth in Suffolk.
Henrietta Laura Pulteney (1766-1808) can be found at the Holburne Museum in Bath
Saltram House in Devon has close to ten Kauffmann paintings including a portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds and a number of histories (several are on the staircase used in Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility), including Hector taking leave of Andromache and Ulysses discovering Achilles.
About the Author
L.L. Diamond is more commonly known as Leslie to her friends and Mom to her three kids. A native of Louisiana, she has spent the majority of her life living within an hour of New Orleans until she vowed to follow her husband to the ends of the earth as a military wife. Louisiana, Mississippi, California, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and now England have all been called home along the way. After watching Sense and Sensibility with her mother, Leslie became a fan of Jane Austen, reading her collected works over the next few years. Pride and Prejudice stood out as a favorite and has dominated her writing since finding Jane Austen Fan Fiction.
Aside from mother and writer, Leslie considers herself a perpetual student. She has degrees in biology and studio art, but will devour any subject of interest simply for the knowledge. As an artist, her concentration is in graphic design, but watercolor is her medium of choice with one of her watercolors featured on the cover of her second book, A Matter of Chance. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Leslie also plays flute and piano, but much like Elizabeth Bennet, she is always in need of practice! Leslie’s books include Rain and Retribution, A Matter of Chance, An Unwavering Trust, The Earl’s Conquest, and Particular Intentions.
images from commons.wikimedia.org