Angelica Kauffman

Swiss Painter

Born: October 30, 1741
Chur, Switzerland
Died: November 5, 1807
Rome, Italy
my love for my fatherland will not die in my heart

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.


The Life of Angelica Kauffman

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.

Progression of Art


Self Portrait Aged Thirteen

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.

Oil on Canvas - Tiroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck, Austria


Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792)

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.

Oil on canvas - Saltram, Devon, UK

c. 1770-75


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.

oil on canvas - National Portrait Gallery, London

c. 1775

Portrait of a Lady

As a technical masterwork, the accuracy of tone, detail, and proportion in this painting is remarkable. The unknown female sitter leans on a plinth which forms part of a column sculpted in the neoclassical style. On the table, to the left of the poised and dignified woman, there is a statue of Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. Minerva bore particular significance for Kauffman throughout her life - the artist wore a belt representing the battle between Minerva and Neptune for the control of Attica. As Minerva won over the male god, the illustration acts as a subtle reminder that Kauffman believes in and supports the powers of women. Indeed, the unknown woman that Kauffman paints here holds a book and a writing implement, and these attributes have led viewers to believe that the sitter was in fact a female intellectual of the time, possibly the historian Catherine Macaulay, or the writer Elizabeth Montagu. The sitter appears confident, empowered and yet also graceful, very much like a Roman goddess.

This portrait therefore also endorses the style of Neoclassicism and at the same time showcases female decorum and celebrates the wealth of artistic skill of women. On the left-hand side of the portrait, there is a table with carved and decorative lion's feet. This type of furniture is indicative of the popular style seen widely across all of the arts in European throughout the eighteenth century. The same style was endorsed by the famous architect, Robert Adam within building design, as well as by Josiah Wedgwood through pottery. There was a revival and a contemporary fascination for all things Roman or Greek. Artists including Kauffman explored these curiosities further when they embarked on European Grand Tours. Both Kauffman and the unknown intellectual woman in the portrait are presented here as equals to their male counter parts, also travellers, also curious, and also artists.

Oil paint on canvas - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom

c. 1777

Henrietta Laura Pulteney

Kauffman not only emphasised human emotion and added a sense of theatre to her portraits, but she also played with and altered size and scale. Here, she paints a child of about eleven years old, neither miniature nor full-length but somewhere in between. The play of light, treatment of the fabric and the wispy landscape in the background also recall the portraits of Reynold's great rival, Thomas Gainsborough. Gainsborough too painted many well-to-do young women amusing themselves outside. Indeed, this portrait of Henrietta had been described as an "indefatigable dancer" and Kauffman accordingly paints her in this very graceful pose giving the dress's fabric and sash a life of their own, almost leaping off the canvas.

Art historian Ian Dejardin describes the evident sense of freedom in this work as being illustrative of an important shift in thinking towards children during this period. Two of the most influential thinkers at the time, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated the benefits of open-air education and the need to respect childhood, seeing it as a distinct life phase in need of its own guidelines. Henrietta Pulteney was raised by parents who followed this new and free philosophy and as such allowed their daughter to ramble through the woods and learn through play. Kauffman likely feels that she shares much in common with Henrietta, for she too enjoyed a good education without restriction, supported by forward-thinking parents.

Oil on canvas - The Holburne Museum, Bath, UK

c. 1780-82

Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Painting of Helen of Troy

Made in the style of an epic history painting, this tableau tells the story of Zeuxis, who, in order to portray the world's most beautiful woman - Helen of Troy - is combining the best features of five other models. The artist, Zeuxis, is in the act of anatomical study, inspecting one of the models as three others prepare for the master's gaze. It is with the fifth 'model', however, who interestingly has Kauffman's features, where the real interest of this painting lies. The fifth model, on the far right of the painting, defies the patriarchal conventions of representation bound up within this narrative, steps behind the male artist, picks up his brush, and is about to start painting.

Henceforth, the Neoclassicists used this image to illustrate the superiority of art over nature. Overall, the painting is an affirmation of Kauffman's artistic beliefs, as well as a manifesto painting in terms of her own views on the talents and capabilities of women as artists. A few years later, in 1780, Kauffman painted herself face to face with a helmeted goddess that is likely Mineva (the Roman version of the Greek Athene), patron of the arts. In both this painting and in Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Painting of Helen of Troy, Kauffman not only confirms her allegiance to Neoclassicism, but also associates herself with a classical female ancestor and as such inserts herself into the revealing lineage of time.

Oil on Canvas - Annmary Brown Memorial Library, Brown University, Rhode Island



Design is one of four paintings (the others being Invention, Composition, and Color) commissioned of Kauffman for the Council Room ceiling of Somerset House, the Royal Academy's first purpose-built home. American history painter Benjamin West was also involved in painting for the scheme and he created his own version of The Four Elements, typical and lifeless nude figures accompanied by their attributes. Whilst Kauffman's four circular ceiling panels are also allegories, in the sense that each person represents an idea, they are not as impersonal as the renditions by West. Kauffman instead shows women in action, working on their art. In Design and Color the figures are physically engaged in the act of creation whereas in Composition and Invention the figures are engaged in reflection. In Invention the figure looks to the sky for inspiration and in Composition she is deep in thought with her head in her hands. When displayed together, the paintings are thus paired-up, with one practical and one theoretical at each side of the room.

It was forbidden for a female artist to work from the male nude, which is why in Design, Kauffman is forced to look to a classical bust to learn about male anatomy. Even doing this was very unusual and frowned upon in its day. Overall as a series, Kauffman's four paintings were inspired in part and represent her friend, Joshua Reynold's theories in his Discourses on Art, on which he had given lectures at the Royal Academy and published later in 1788.

Despite Kauffman's artistic credentials, classical training, and her innovation in history painting the Royal Academy did not give this set of four paintings pride of place. Visitors would not have easily seen the significance of Kauffman's works including Design as they graced the ceiling rather than the walls of the building. Now, unfortunately, the panels on the ceiling are not Kauffman's original paintings but rather photographic reproductions, whilst the original panels have been re-hung in the entrance to Burlington House, another part of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and do not get noticed much due to the nature of large crowds entering the building this way.

Oil on canvas - Royal Academy, London

c. 1792-96

Study of a Standing Woman

Kauffman returned to Rome in 1782. In 1791, she received a papal commission from Cardinal Ignazio Buoncompagni for an altar painting. She greatly enjoyed the commission and as such during the latter part of her career there was a stronger emphasis on religion than in earlier works. Nonetheless, this study, a preliminary drawing of a mother, one of the figures for Kauffman's painting Let the Little Children Come unto Me (1796) shows that she retained focus on the Neoclassical style.

Kauffmann took inspiration for this painting from Matthew 19:14 in which Christ blesses the children that are brought to him. In her preparatory drawing, Kauffman captures the great detail of the mother's heavy drapery. White chalk is used in contrast to the stone colored paper, adding softness to the darker contours of the woman. In the final painting, the mother has an infant in her left arm and with her right hand she holds the hand of another child (figures that have not yet appeared in this drawing). By contrast to her subject, Kauffman did not become a mother and instead devoted her life and affections to art.

Black and white chalk on grey paper - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Self-portrait of the Artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting

This vibrant and revealing self-portrait was painted as a commission for Princess Holstein-Beck of Russia after Kauffman had returned to Rome. The picture clearly shows the two different career choices that were open to Kauffman during her innocent youth - painting on the one hand and music on the other. Contemporary opinion of female singers was often however linked to promiscuity, as some became mistresses at the royal courts that they performed in. Indeed, Kauffman had asked a priest for advice in her youth as to which vocation to pursue and he - for this reason and also because he thought that art was ultimately more satisfying - pointed her towards painting.

The allegorical nature of the painting led to writer Friedrich von Matthisson to make its comparison with Hercules at the Crossroads Between Virtue and Vice by Annibale Carraci (1765), a much-favoured image of the period. As such even though Kauffman's paintings were on occasion criticised because they did not showcase the virility and manly strength normally associated with a history painting, her decision to make a picture similar to one already revered highlights the artist's shrewd understanding of the art market, building on what was already familiar and popular. The American art history professor Waltraud Maierhofer, describes this iconic self-portrait of Kauffman as ''unprecedented in the history of art'', particularly because it portrays the subject of a female artist making her own, important decisions.

Furthermore, the artist's placement of female protagonists distinguished Kauffman from her male contemporaries. French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David, in The Oath of the Horatii (1785) shows men as powerful and decisive whilst the group of women to the side are weak and wailing. Kauffman, by contrast, bestows the same compliment to women and renders them with equal strength and potential. The fact that "choice" paintings were generally popular at this time shows an early interest in the investigation of where our individuality comes from and what a unique psychology may be comprised of.

Oil on canvas - Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, UK

Biography of Angelica Kauffman


Angelica Kauffman, christened Maria Anna Angelika Catharina Kauffmann, was born October 30, 1741 in Switzerland. Her parents were painter Johann Josef Kauffman and Cleophea, née Luz, who came from a noble family. Kauffman would inhabit and glean the best parts from both of her parents' respective worlds in order to form her own identity. As such she became both a practising artist and a charming and highly cultured hostess circulating within the highest echelons of European society. Most of Kauffman's childhood was spent in the Swiss region of Morbegno, Graubünden, and living surrounding Lake Como, depending on where her father was working. Johann decided to leave Switzerland with his family in 1755, when Angelica was aged sixteen, to search for a larger client base in Austria. This early nomadic lifestyle and already being dedicated to moving in the name of art, helped to shape Kauffman's career as an ''international sensation''.

Kauffman's parents recognised their daughter's abilities and talents from an early age and the young girl enjoyed a much fuller and richer education than most girls of the period. Like her mother, she could speak multiple languages including German, Italian, English and French. She also learnt to play the cello and possessed a strong clear singing voice. Writer, De Rossi in his biography on Kauffman recounts the story of how in her teen years Kauffman chose painting over music as a career. The artist's father had taken her to visit a local priest as means to make this difficult decision given that she had talents to do either and enjoyed both fields. The priest advised that life as a performer would give little time for religious observance as a young Catholic woman, and also that although more difficult, painting would ultimately be a more satisfying career.

Whether De Rossi's story was anecdotal or true, it certainly gives evidence that Kauffman was highly avant-garde; a typical eighteenth-century woman was not expected to think about or decide for herself which professional career to pursue. The artist's father's anxiety over whether his daughter would get regular work, as artists at this time always operated by obtaining commissions, was unfounded.

Early Training and Work

Johann Kauffman was instrumental in his daughter's early training. Upon the death of Cleophea in 1757, father and daughter moved to her father's birthplace in Schwarzenberg, Austria. Kauffman assisted her father in completing a fresco painting of the Twelve Apostles for a parish church in Schwarzenberg - a rare and exciting opportunity for a girl her age. The two continued thus forth to work on commissions together and by the age of twenty it was Angelica Kauffman who had become the family's main breadwinner.

In the years after his wife's death Johann dedicated himself completely to Kauffman's training and the period between 1762 and 1764 was defining in this regard. The father and daughter duo travelled to Naples, Rome, Milan, Florence and other cities in Italy spending hours in galleries copying from the Old Master paintings including Raphael, as well as from plaster casts. Kauffman produced etchings, drawings, and paintings all of which helped to build on her knowledge of Renaissance and seventeenth-century painting, as well as to practice her own drawing techniques. The contacts and resources already built by her father gave Kauffman unfettered access to what was usually an exclusively male art world.

Even though still young, and effectively at the very beginning of her career, Kauffman showed such unusual talent that by 1762, she was already an honorary member of the Accademia Clementina di Bologna, and given a diploma from the Accademia del Designo in Florence. She also later joined the Academia di San Luca in Rome. Now with several letters of recommendation to her name, Kauffman was admitted to the royal courts of both Parma and Florence, and here she was commissioned to produce both portraits and history paintings.

Mature Period

During Kauffman's travels in Italy she made an important contact. In October 1765 she met Lady Bridget Wentworth Murray, wife of an English envoy, in Venice who persuaded her to travel back to London with her. Kauffman arrived in the capital in 1766 and was to remain there for the next fifteen years of her life. Almost as soon as she had arrived she met the influential painter Joshua Reynolds, and the two became lifelong friends. Augusta Princess of Wales and mother of King George III also came to her studio, a visit that led to the commission of a portrait of Augusta's eldest daughter, the Duchess of Brunswick. This portrait was widely praised in the newspapers and led to Kauffman receiving even more commissions. A mezzoprint was even made of this painting, and as such by newly established technological means, news of Kauffman's skills travelled even further.

Having parted from her father to come to London, she wrote to him shortly after arrival and commented on the double-edged sword of public fame; ''I am now known by everyone here and esteemed. Not only must I maintain my character in keeping with my work, everything else must be arranged accordingly - with a certain propriety that is necessary these days - if one would wish to distinguish oneself''. In view of keeping up with propriety, in Florence she had been given separate rooms to the male artists when copying works. In England, it was revealed, decorum was just as important.

For most of Kauffman's career she lived with her father. However, having come to London alone, her reputation was almost irrevocably tarred when she married Frederick de Horn in 1767. Rumoured to be impotent, de Horn was surely a bigamist, and it is thought the pseudo-Swedish Count had tricked Kauffman into marrying him so that he could stay in England. The terrible marriage was quickly annulled with financial help from Kaufman's father. Furthermore, Kauffman's connections to the English royal family and even more so, to the dignified and successful Joshua Reynolds all helped to soon alleviate the social stigma of this separation. Kauffman's fame continued to grow unscathed.

Kauffman proposed to King George III that a Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture should be established in London. Her entreaty led to her becoming one of only two female co-founders of the Royal Academy established on December 10th, 1768, alongside Reynolds and around 30 other founders. The only other female co-founder was flower painter Mary Moser. Feminist art historian Whitney Chadwick suggests that this privilege was awarded because ''both were the daughters of foreigners, and that both were active in the group of male painters instrumental in forming the Royal Academy''. In a well-known painting by Zoffany the male academicians are in discussion around male nudes whilst the two pivotal women appear in portraits on the wall, still in some means untouchable and present more in theory than in practice. Yet despite evident inequality, the Academy was supportive and important for Kauffman. She first exhibited there in 1769 and continued to do so until the late 1790s, an official presence that greatly assisted in securing important commissions.

As well as history paintings, Kauffman also painted novelists, playwrights, poets, actors, statesmen, philosophers, and royalty, many of whom were her friends. She had many important patrons including the Austrian Governor, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Russia, Queen Caroline and King Ferdinand of Naples, and Prince Poniatowsky of Poland. Gender did however remain an on-going obstacle in her career. Indeed, it was speculated that her physical charms attracted men - including an engagement to Nathaniel Dance in Italy, an apparent wedding proposal from Reynolds, and a flirtation with printmaker William Ryland. Despite such speculation, it was not until the death of her first husband (long after their separation) that she was able to re-marry. In 1781 she wed Venetian painter Antonio Zucchi, who she met in England as he had been working on commissions in the country alongside Scottish architect Robert Adam. Overall though, Kauffman did very well to avoid any scandal, whilst other contemporary female portrait artists, including Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun were not so lucky.

Kauffman also adapted very well to English tastes. Influenced by Neoclassicist art and English romantic literature, she produced paintings derived from the writings of Alexander Pope and from Homer as well as classical works such as Zeuxis Selecting Models for his Painting of Helen of Troy (1764). In around 1770 she began to focus principally on history paintings, and along with Benjamin West (one of the few successful history painters working in England) she was one of the first Royal Academy members to exhibit British history paintings and helped to make the genre popular. Kauffman's notoriety in this field shows her high ambitions as the genre was ranked above portraiture, still life, and landscape. An engraved print circulated in 1780 shows Kauffman at work and heralds her position as a well-respected and established artist.

Throughout she enjoyed financial independence as a female painter because her skill was unquestionable. Contemporary diarist Joseph Farington estimated that Kauffman's wealth during her 15-year career based in England came up to around £14,000 which was an enormous sum at the time. Whilst most of her female contemporaries were already married with children, by age 30, Kauffman shows in her numerous self-portraits that she was different from the others, in her dedication to art.

Late years

Following her second marriage Kauffman returned to Italy, settling in Rome with Zucchi in 1782. Although she had enjoyed her 15-year stay in Britain, Kauffman felt that history painting was held in much better esteem on the continent and as such it was easier for her to build a good client base and receive regular commissions if she moved there. As in London, her studio and company quickly became well known and she was considered to be ''one of the most cultivated women in Europe''. In 1786 Kauffman attended first meetings of Academy of Arcadians, a Roman society of poets. Through the Academy she met and befriended German poets Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Johann Gottfried von Herder. The former affectionately wrote of her ''immense talent'' and said further of his painter friend, that "she was sensitive to all that is true and beautiful, and she is incredibly modest". In 1790 she also painted A Scene in Arcady after a poem by friend George Keate. She had a personal letter-writing correspondence with Keate as well as with many other poets and writers, including the impressive Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock.

Kauffman continued to paint and socialise until the early 1800s. Sculptor Antonia Canova was among those who frequented her home in Rome and became another great friend. Meanwhile, in England Kauffman's fame lived on. Publishers and printmakers became very interested in her work, particularly the line engraver William Wynne Ryland who reproduced and spread Kauffman's images widely. Indeed, her paintings even inspired a new type of decorative printing process - the stipple engraving whereby etched or engraved dots were used to build up tone. Copies of Kauffman's paintings were often found hanging in the most fashionable places in London.

Kauffman died on November 5, 1807. Her friend, the reputable sculptor, Canova, prepared her funeral and it was considered to be the greatest and most elaborate organised for a painter passing in Rome since the death of Raphael. The entire Accademia di San Luca comprised the mournful procession along with various other important ecclesiastics and virtuosi. As a mark of great respect, two of her paintings were even carried alongside the procession. Interestingly, Kauffman spent both the defining early years of her training, and the last part of her career, in Rome.

The Legacy of Angelica Kauffman

Often described as ''a pioneer'' Angelica Kauffman took everywhere that she went by storm and has a long-lasting legacy. During her lifetime she was one of the highest paid and most sought after portrait artists, second only to her great friend and colleague, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Her skill and dedication to painting was phenomenal and unfailing and as such a vast variety of autobiographies and articles have been written on her career.

Kauffman challenged contemporary perspectives on gender from the very center of the art world, cleverly using the most elite and respected form of art at the time, history painting. She was charming, financially independent, and internationally acclaimed and as such society had little choice but to take her very seriously. A contemporary at the time described the sheer number of prints of her work in circulation around the world as proof that everyone had gone "Angelicamad". Indeed, it was as though the painter had celebrity status in the eighteenth century something akin to a film star following today.

Although an undoubtedly skilled painter and an excellent businesswoman, future centuries did not accept Kauffman as readily as her own. Romantic and idyllic landscape painters including John Constable held the belief that the English School would not be able to make progress until Kauffman's influence had diminished (singling her out in this way), and the Victorian period did not pay attention to her work. Kauffman's friend Goethe was a dedicated supporter Kauffman's talents, but he also comments that her real skill was somewhat diminished by cheap reproductions and the effect that over-commercialisation had on her career.

Despite the pitfalls of fame however, Kauffman remains a highly impressive and hugely important female artist. Whilst she used mythology, female muses, and allegory to illustrate the equal strength and status between men and women, it was not until the 20th century that artists started to portray active and empowered female mystics and goddesses more widely. When depicted earlier by male artists, female figures were generally passive and used to illuminate an idea of some sort. Kauffman's is a very long-standing influence that continues to grow through the lineage and progression of self-portraiture.

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