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Famous Painters: Angelica Kauffmann

Posted by Susan Benford

Swiss-born Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was known as a child prodigy who, before the age of 15, was assisting her father with church murals and accepting commissions in portraiture. angelica kauffmann self portrait music painting resized 600In addition to speaking four foreign languages fluently, Angelica Kauffmann was renowned as a singer and wrestled to choose between music and art, as memorialized in one of her most famous paintings, Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting. This Kauffmann painting recalls the popular 17th century theme in which 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting, 1792.  Oil on canvas, approx. 60" by 83".  Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

Hercules, at the Crossroads, must choose between Luxury and Fame. 

She audaciously rejected working in genres deemed acceptable to female artists, such as still life, to pursue history painting, the field that was the most lucrative, prestigious, and male-dominated in the 18th century.  In 1758, Kauffmann and her father toured Italy to study famous paintings and works of old masters; four years later, she settled in Rome and catered to travelers, many of whom were Englishmen on the Grand Tour. It was there Angelica David Garrick resized 600Kauffmann was exposed to artists like Benjamin West (1738-1820) who were exploring the emerging style of Neoclassicism

Her reputation in England was bolstered by her portrait of the English actor David Garrick (Does George Costanza of Seinfield look like him, or what?!), possibly the most frequently painted Englishman in the 18th century. Among the famous painters who did portraits of Garrick were:  

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds
  • Thomas Gainsborough
  • William Hogarth
  • Benjamin Wilson
  • Nathaniel Dance
  • Pompeo Batoni
  • Pietro Longhi

David Garrick was even painted more often than the king, George III (1). 

Angelica Kauffmann, David Garrick.  Oil on canvas, 1764.Burghley House, Lincolnshire, England.

With the encouragement of  Sir Joshua ReynoldsAngelica Kauffmann relocated to London which, like Rome, was a center of Neoclassicism. Kauffmann was dedicated to popularizing history paintings in Great Britain; there were no other female artists then working in such grand scale.  She opted for heroines drawn from classical history like Penelope, the wife of Odyssey who remained faithful during his 20 year absence; and Lucretia, another paragon of female virtue who committed suicide after being raped.  

Socially adept, admired for her diligence, and recognized for her paintings done for interiors designed by the leading architect, Robert Adam, Angelica Kauffmann was one of the 36 founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768.  Much ballyhoo was made of the fact that Kauffmann johann zoffany academicians royal academy resized 600and another Swiss painter, Mary Moser, were founders...

Johann Zoffany.  The Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1772. 

yet the history of painting reveals how flimsy this honor actually was:

  1. Just four years later in 1772, Johann Zoffany painted The Academicians of the Royal Academy grouped around a nude model.  Because all female painters were prohibited from working from a nude model, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser are present only as portraits on the upper right.
  2. Adding insult to injury, no other female painters were elected to the Royal Academy until Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970)-- 115 years later.  
Angelica Kauffmann was commissioned in 1778 to created four allegorical paintings for the Royal Academy's new lecture hall; today, these four Kauffmann paintings are in the vestibule of Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy.
Angelica Kauffmann was not ultimately successful in endearing Neoclassicism and history paintings to the British, and had to augment her income with portraiture.  Nonetheless, she leaves a legacy in the history of art as a famous artist with an international clientele.  She was one of a handful of female artists who were financially successful and competed on par with male painters. 

1. JSTOR.  David Garrick and English Painting.  Lance Bertelsen

Note on spelling: Although Angelica Kauffmann signed her paintings as "Kauffman", the leading biographies of her spell it "Kauffmann", as noted in Women Artists 1550-1950 by Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin.

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

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Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

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Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

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Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

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Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

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Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

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Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

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Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

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Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

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Rubens, Venus and Adonis

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Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

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Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

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Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

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Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

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Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

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Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

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