Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Angelica Kauffmann

Why do great male artists, especially those pre-World War 2, far outnumber the women? It took courage for a woman to be independent and practice a profession in her own right - a woman's rightful place in society was to be dependent upon and obedient to her father, until that role was taken over by her husband. Who knows how many potential great talents were lost to the world because they were females and kept in "their place"?

Nevertheless, there have been some outstanding women artists, going right back from modern times to Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola in the sixteenth century.
Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was fortunate in having a father, the Swiss painter Joseph Johann Kauffmann, who encouraged her burgeoning talent. Her mother died when she was very young, and she accompanied her father on his travels in Austria and Italy. He allowed her to assist him by painting the backgrounds of his works, but she received her first commission at the age of 13, and soon established a reputation in her own right.

She was a child prodigy - spoke Italian, French and English as well as her native German and she was also musically talented. She played several instruments and had an exceptionally sweet singing voice. Her painting was greatly admired, but she was an attractive girl and enjoyed great personal popularity as well.

She travelled extensively in Italy, spending long periods in Rome, Venice and Milan. She preferred to paint historical and mythological subjects, which was considered to be the only important artistic genre, and did so in a neo-classical style.

However, she was much in demand among the upper crust as a portraitist.Her portrait of the influential German archaeologist and art historian Winckelmann was greatly admired, not least by the sitter, and led to a plethora of commissions. In Venice, she was befriended by Lady Wentworth, the wife of the English ambassador. Lady Wentworth persuaded Angelica to go to London with her, where she was very well received in Society, and became a favourite of the royal family.

One of the first portraits she painted in London was of the actor David Garrick, which was exhibited at "Mr Moreing's great room in Maiden Lane."

Sir Joshua Reynolds, who called her "Miss Angel", was a good friend, and they painted portraits of each other. Under his auspices, she was one of the founder members in 1768 of the Royal Academy, an institution then not famous for welcoming female members. She was one of the artists appointed by the Academy to decorate St Paul's Cathedral and also the Academy's lecture room at Somerset House.

In her early twenties, she was duped into marrying a con man who pretended to be a Swedish count, but Reynolds helped her to obtain a legal separation. When the spurious Count died in 1781, she married Antonio Zucchi, a Venetian artist, and went to live with him in Rome. She was widowed after fifteen happy years of marriage, but continued to work and to enjoy great prestige.

When she died in Rome at age 43, her splendid funeral was directed by Canova. The entire Academy of St Luke, plus all the celebrities of the day, followed her to her tomb and some of her best pictures were carried in the procession.

Her work has not really stood the test of time - the neo-classical works are regarded as sentimental and her portraits are considered to lack variety and expression. However, her works are still exhibited in the collections of many of the world's top museums, among others the National Gallery in London, the Hermitage, the Uffizi and the Alte Pinothek in Munich.

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