Friday, December 26, 2008

Tart of the Week: Angelica Kauffman

The gypsy painter that is Angelica Kauffman was born in Switzerland, raised in Austria, and is considered to be one of the great British artists of the 18th century. How peculiar. She was born in 1741, the daughter of a painter. She inherited her father's skills in the art, and when the family moved throughout Italy on his various commissions, Angelica was allowed to hone these skills by working with him. Because of relocating throughout the continent, Angelica became fluent in a variety of languages including English. Soon, British tourists were commissioning her to paint their portraits on their World Tour. All this networking among the gentry of Britain got Angelica a ticket to London with Lady Wentworth.

Angelica was an immediate success in London. Due to Lady Wentworth's influence Angelica was able to rub shoulders with the great leaders of the arts such as Garrick and Reynolds. It was here that the naive 25 year-old became in entwined with a dangerous man that almost ruined everything she had earned through her hard work. The Swedish Count de Horn has been described as a "rogue" and was known to live lavishly but never invite anyone over to dine with him. Somehow or another he convinced Angelica to a clandestine wedding. It was not long before Angelica realized the danger she was in; her husband was squandering all her money and had none of his own. In fact this Count Frederick de Horn was an impostor. He wasn't the count at all, merely some guy who used to work for him.

With the help of her new friend, Joshua Reynolds, Angelica managed to escape unscathed from the secret marriage. Hmm, still sounds fishy to me! She moved on to new endeavors, and was one of the signatures partitioning the king for a Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Indeed, Angelica was one of the two female incumbents in the Royal Academy which later banned women. She exhibited many of her works at the academy, many of which reflected her love of the Renaissance. Angelica also continued painting portraits and made lots of moolah doing so.

She married fellow artist, Antonio Zucchi in 1781. The marriage was not one based on passionate love, but more out of convenience. In fact, it is a bit questionable why Angelica even bothered. After the marriage the couple moved to Rome where Angelica continued to submit her work to the Royal Academy. The city welcomed her with open arms and her studio became a gathering place for great minds. Her husband died in 1795 (he was old to begin with) and left her barely anything in his will but if this bothered Angelica, she never really showed it. Maybe it was because she was filthy rich because of her successful career. She died in 1807 and was honoured by being given the most lavish funeral procession for an artist since Raphael. Just think how many artists Rome has supplied us with, too! Under the direction of the sculptor, Antonio Canova Angelica's funeral procession laid her to rest.


  1. Okay, I have to pull you into a long standing debate: Angelica Kauffmann & Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun -- contemporaries? I got into an argument once for saying that they were, because the periods that they worked in, their clientele, and their styles of painting overlap pretty neatly; the person taking the con position insisted that they were not because they were about 15 years apart in age. I don't think they were in much direct competition, like say Vigée Le Brun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, but it seems reasonable to think that they were at least aware of, and possibly influenced by, each others' work--hence, contemporaries. Yes/no?

  2. Absolutely! Age has nothing to do with it, they were both working at the same time and both leading ladies in painting. They most definitely knew of each other although, as you say, they weren't in direct competition. I don't think this is a case of opinion, so you are absolutely right!

  3. Oh great post--I've always found her quite interesting, and it's a pity most of her art isn't more well known!

  4. I agree, she is really a fabulous artist!

  5. Isn't she? I just love her self-portraits