Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, c.1780 

Angelica Kauffmann RA (1741-1807)

Portrait of a Lady, c.1780, Angelica Kauffmann RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
24 ¾ x 20 ½ inches, 62.5 x 52 cm
Collection of Princess Odescalchi.
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We are grateful to Professor Wendy Roworth for confirming the attribution to Kauffmann.

Angelica Kauffmann was one of the most successful female artists of her generation, along with contemporaries such as Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Marguérite Gérard, and Marie-Victoire Lemoine. Despite the fact that they faced the usual inane prejudices one might expect – Kauffman, for example, was refused access to nude, life-classes while training in Rome – such artists continued a long European tradition of female painters, following on from the likes of Sofonisba and Lavinia Fontana. This portrait is one of Kauffmann’s most beautiful, and was probably painted in Rome in about xxxx, being close in technique and approach to the equally attractive portrait in the Hermitage, also dated to about 1785 (fig.x).

Kauffman was born in Switzerland, the daughter of a minor artist Joseph Kauffmann. She had no formal artistic training when young, but her prodigious talent ensured that she was able to practice in Rome from 1763. In 1766, thanks to her success among English ‘Grand Tourers’ such as the actor David Garrick, she was urged to continue her career in England, where the demand for good portraitists was always high. After her arrival, the whole of London went “Angelicamad”, as one contemporary wrote. Kauffman’s graceful, elegant style accorded well with the prevailing rococo taste in England, and there was much demand for the delicate technique seen in the present portrait, especially amongst female sitters. She became a favourite of Joshua Reynolds, and gossip suggested that for the advances of one artist she had forsaken another – Nathaniel Dance was sorely disappointed in her refusal of his hand in marriage. In any case, Kauffman’s easy manner and skill led to much society patronage, from royalty downwards, and she became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768. Her depictions of classical legends also proved highly popular.

After a disastrously brief marriage to an imposter with the improbable name of Count Von Horn, Kauffman left England for Rome once more in 1781. There, her studio became a focal point of the city, and she became friends with Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton, while her patrons included royalty from almost all Europe, most notably Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria.
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