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Angelica Kauffman

Swiss Painter

Angelica Kauffman Photo
Born: 1741
Chur, Switzerland
Died: 1807
Rome, Italy
my love for my fatherland will not die in my heart
Angelica Kauffman

Summary of Angelica Kauffman

A remarkable pioneer, Angelica Kauffman made art similar to other talented women artists but did so not from the fringes, but from the very center of the recognised British art establishment. She was cultured, widely travelled, and multi-lingual from childhood. As a great friend to both Joshua Reynolds and Johann Wolfgang Goethe she was well connected, highly respected and much loved by some of the most influential artists of her day. As such, she was one of only two women to officially sign the founding document for the establishment of the Royal Academy in London. She managed to wholly avoid destructive ridicule and sexual innuendo that often followed women trying to make their way as artists at this time.

Despite being rebellious and individual by nature, always preferring the imaginative rather than imitative approach to art, Kauffman remained clever and careful to always take convention into consideration as the way to maintain a good reputation and secure the smooth progression of her career. Although predominantly a traditional Neoclassical painter, throughout her career there is a tendency to reflect and to maintain the steady production of self-portraits alongside portraits of notable figures and large historical canvases. She was married to the Venetian artist, Antonio Zucchi, and in death was honored by her friend - the iconic sculptor Antonio Canova - who organised her funeral and carved her tomb.

Key Ideas

Biography of Angelica Kauffman

Detail of <i>Composition</i> (1778-80)

As an unrivaled painter and queen of self-promotion, Angelica Kauffman’s fame was also her downfall. Although the art-loving public were crazy about her work, rumor and slander dogged her personal life leading her to burn most of her personal papers before her death.

Important Art by Angelica Kauffman

Self Portrait Aged Thirteen (1753)

Self Portrait Aged Thirteen (1753)

When she was thirteen, Kauffman painted this exquisite self-portrait to show that she was equally talented in music and painting. In a double message, she proudly showcases her talents as well as revealing from the outset that she is interested in self-investigation and discovery. Her palette of icy pink and pastel blue is very reminiscent of earlier eighteenth century Rococo painting and the likes of Jean-Antoine Watteau. Indeed, Kauffman, by this age was already well versed in art history and had frequented art galleries with her influential artist father.

Interestingly, at age fifty she returned to this very same subject, recalling the episode in her youth (perhaps at age thirteen) when she had asked a priest whether she should follow art or music as her profession. To convey the experience of being psychologically torn by choice, or by the multi-faceted strands of a complex personality is a very modern subject. Amazingly, Kauffman (through self-portraiture) had successfully uncovered the major theme that would become one of the central leitmotifs in twentieth century art.

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792) (1767)

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792) (1767)

Here is Kauffman's portrait of the influential English painter Joshua Reynolds. He is her friend and accordingly, the tone of this picture is extremely relaxed. Reynolds is surrounded by his books and papers, and there is a bust of Michelangelo to the far left, there to pass inspiration from one artist to another. The rich colors of the scene and the fact that Reynolds wears seventeenth-century clothing recalls the portraits of Flemish artist, Anthony van Dyck. Indeed, when she arrived in London Kauffman was soon hailed to be van Dyck's successor. In contrast to the unwavering formality of van Dyck however, Kauffman skillfully captures a more personal glimpse into the life of her subject; she uncovers a touching sentimentality that would come to be an important defining feature of her portraiture.

Indeed, however notable and considered grandiose to others, Kauffman always rendered her subjects more humble, and so, more human. This was the case for her portrait of the actor David Garrick - which she submitted to the Society of Artists' exhibition whilst still in Rome in 1765 - and also for her Portrait of Winckelmann (1764), her view of the widely acclaimed German archaeologist and antiquarian. Reynolds in particular remained a friend and very important contact for Kauffman throughout her time in England. As well as introducing skill and talent to potential clients, he also helped Kauffman to retain her reputation following the scandal of her first marriage. We see the intimate and trusted friendship that the two artists have through the expression on Reynold's face in this portrait.

Self-portrait (c. 1770-1775)

Self-portrait (c. 1770-1775)

Unusually in this painting, and also in a further self-portrait from 1787, Kauffman shows herself with crayon at the ready and her portfolio. This pose was developed during the eighteenth century, notably in England, for portraits of lady amateurs. There was a strong barrier between professional and amateur female artists at this time; amateurs did not have artistic training, they could not sell their work, and largely, their work was not particularly strong. For unknown reasons however, Kauffman associated with the amateur and repeatedly painted herself in the given pose throughout her career.

One can only speculate why the artist did this as there is limited research on the subject, but it seems that Kauffman was interested in the popularisation of her work in many ways. Maintaining a strong connection to everyday life, even when having become famous, it seemed important to Kauffman that her paintings could be widely reproduced as prints. Furthermore, it has been suggested that by painting herself as a lady amateur(albeit an especially talented one) Kauffman retained her ladylike status and kept dangerous gossip and malice at bay. In reality, she was a wealthy, independent, and vigorously talented woman, but she was also clever and understood that society was not yet ready for such a bombastic unstoppable female force. She thus retained in her self-portraits - alongside strength and the will to work - a disarming and sweet feminine charm.

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Content compiled and written by Mélissa Evans

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by , Rebecca Baillie

"Angelica Kauffman Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Mélissa Evans
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
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First published on 12 Mar 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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