Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Thomas Reade 1775c

Angelica Kauffmann RA (1741-1807)

Portrait of Thomas Reade, Angelica Kauffmann RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Sir John Reade, 5th Bt. (d.1721) Sir Chandos S. H. Reade, 8th Bt. (1851-1890) by 1882 Anonymous sale, Parke-Bernet, October 4th 1947 $350 Anonymous sale, Parke-Bernet, September 23, 1970 lot 81 bt. Ira Spainerman. Peter Walch Collection, USA 2005
Angelica Kauffmann was one of the most distinguished artists of the eighteenth century. That she was one of the most successful female artists in the entire canon of post-renaissance art history has added deservedly to her fame and artistic stature. It is perhaps indicative of the social and economic constraints faced by English women in the eighteenth century that the two most successful female artists of their generation, Kauffman and Vigee Le Brun, were Europeans. Though they in turn faced the usual inane prejudice one would associate with male polities (Kauffman, for example, was refused access to life classes while training in Rome), it was the more enlightened, and even cultured, continental attitudes that allowed such skills to be practiced seriously by women.

Kauffman’s graceful, elegant style accorded well with the prevailing rococo taste of England in the eighteenth century, and there was much demand for her style of delicate and colourful portraiture seen here. However, Kauffman was by temperament a neo-classicist who preferred history painting. It is no surprise that the present portrait shows Thomas Reade allegorized in the manner of a history painting. His seventeenth century ‘Van Dyck’ dress was a conscious attempt by English portraitists, from Hudson to Gainsborough, to capture the elegant manner first practiced by Van Dyck himself. The practice was taken one step further by Kauffman, who, after a prodigious upbringing spent touring the courts of European dignitaries in her childhood (a la Mozart) was much influenced by pioneering neo-classicists and history painters such as Benjamin West, Gavin Hamilton and Nathaniel Dance when studying in Rome. This was a further indication not only of her talent, but determination to succeed in a male dominated world - history painting, with its large canvasses, complex narratives, and often tortured poses was then considered the most challenging type of art one could practice. Nevertheless, Kauffman emphatically succeeded. Her success in Rome was immediate, and she became known as both a history painter and portraitist, painting such travelling ‘Grand Tourers’ as David Garrick and Brownlow Cecil, Earl of Essex.

Kauffman soon accepted the inevitable invitation to continue her career in England. On her arrival in 1766 she soon became a favourite of Joshua Reynolds, himself an advocate of history painting. Gossip suggested that for the advances of one artist, she had forsaken another – Nathaniel Dance was sorely disappointed in Kauffman’s refusal of his hand in marriage. In any case, Kauffman’s easy manner and skill led to much society patronage, from Royalty downwards. She became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768.

After a disastrously brief marriage to an imposter with the improbable name of Count Von Horn, Kauffman left England for Rome once more. There, her studio became a focal point of the Grand Tour. She became friends with Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton. Her patrons included the royalty of almost all Europe, such as Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria. Her works can now be found in museums and galleries across the world.

Thomas Reade was the second son of Sir John Reade Bt. His twin brother John, by virtue of a few minutes headstart in life, inherited the family title and estates. Thomas Reade married Catherine, daughter of Sir John Hill and lived at Barton Manor in Berkshire. They had four children, the eldest of whom, John Edmund Reade, was a poet and author of some merit.
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