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September 2020

Vol. 162 / No. 1410

Mad About Angelica Kauffman

Reviewed by Wolfgang Savelsberg

Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf 

30th January–20th September 

Probably the best-known female artist of the eighteenth century, Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807) was born in the Swiss city of Chur, where she was considered a child prodigy. Between 1758 and 1765 she travelled through Italy before settling in London in 1766, where she opened a studio and embarked on a successful career. In 1781 she returned to Rome, where her fame and wealth grew.

This exhibition presents the results of the research carried out over many years by its curator, Bettina Baumgärtel, director of the Angelika Kauffmann Research Project (AKRP).(1) In 1998–99 Baumgärtel curated an important Kauffman retrospective that travelled from Düsseldorf to Munich and Chur and was accompanied by a substantial catalogue.(2) Whereas that exhibition presented 271 works by Kauffman in order to convince both the art world and scholars of her outstanding artistic achievement, the present exhibition, designed in part to present Kauffman as a leading history painter, a trend-setting portraitist and a champion of a new ideal of masculinity, presents a judiciously pruned selection of 110 of her finest works.(3) The choice, which reflects the research made for Baumgärtel’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Kauffman, includes a number of newly identified works, such as A pleasant pasttime – ludit amabiliter (before 1779; private collection; no.26), a portrait of Catharina Odescalchi (1783; private collection; no.46) and the large-scale Servius Tullius as a child asleep beneath the Miraculous Flame (1785; Scientific- Research Museum of the Academy of Arts of Russia, St Petersburg; no.73). Given the significance of the exhibition, it is a shame that as a result of the covid-19 lockdown it could not travel to its second venue, the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Recognition of Kauffman at the institution of which she was a founding member in 1768 is long overdue.

The attractively presented and well-structured catalogue does not overwhelm the reader with information. Kauffman’s life and works are discussed chronologically on the basis of the 110 works, which include some drawings and prints and a few sculptures but mainly comprise paintings, among them self-portraits, portraits, allegories, history paintings and religious scenes. An essay by Inken Maria Holubec presents the results of the scientific investigations undertaken as part of the project. There is also an informative video.(4)

The exhibition’s central premise, that Kauffman was the first female artist of international rank, is convincing, considering that she worked throughout Europe, spoke five languages and had a network of international contacts and patrons in Europe and overseas. Among her clients were Queen Charlotte of the United Kingdom, Emperor Joseph II of Austria, King Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia and many members of the European nobility. Well educated, Kauffman hosted a cosmopolitan salon in Rome, which became a meeting point for many, especially English Grand Tourists. In the exhibition this is reflected by a group of portraits that demonstrates the range of her English clients, from theShakespearean actor David Garrick (1764; Burghley House, Stamford; cat. no.13) to the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, daughter and son-in-law of George III (1787; private collection; no.51), and Emma Lady Hamilton (1791; private collection; no.68).

The exhibition opens with an evocation of a print room decorated with reproductions of Kauffman’s works. From the 1770s onwards the demand for her paintings was so high that the Danish ambassador in London, Gottlob Friedrich Ernst Graf Schönborn, quipped ‘the whole world is angelicamad’ (p.15). Stipple engravings after her paintings were particularly sought after and, as demonstrated here, could be used almost like wallpaper. A display of porcelain painted with motifs derived from Kauffman evidences the diffusion of her work in the decorative arts and makes a spectacular start to the show.

A group of eight of her finest self-portraits demonstrates how Kauffman created an image of herself as an attractive woman at home in the upper levels society who was also a talented painter. They range from the first portrait of herself as a singer, holding sheet music (c.1753; Tiroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck; no.3) and the famous Self-portrait in all’antica dress (1787; Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence; no.9) to one of her major works, Selfportrait at the crossroads between the arts of music and painting (1794; Nostell Priory, Yorkshire; no.2). The newly discovered Self-portrait with stylus (no.4; Fig.16) depicts Kauffman with a dreamy gaze that avoids the viewer, which Baumgärtel interprets as a reference to ‘inner seeing’ and thus to inspiration (p.46). She has identified the model for the bust in Self-portrait with a bust of Minerva (Bündner Kunstmuseum,Chur; no.8) as a fourth-century Roman marble in the British Museum, London. Since it was excavated in Rome only in 1784, she is able to date the painting to Kauffman’s second period in Italy.

The exhibition is arranged broadly chronologically. Among the early works painted in Italy is the portrait that established Kauffman’s fame, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764; Kunsthaus Zürich; no.10). Paintings from her time in London include a highlight of the show, the over-life-size, full-length portrait of George III’s sister Princess Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg, with her eldest son, Charles (1767; Royal Collection; no.42). This reveals that although Kauffman was inspired by portraitists who had worked in England, such as Anthony van Dyck, Peter Lely and John Richardson the Elder, she moved away from the Baroque traditions of portraiture in favour of more classicising forms. Kauffman is presented as an arbiter of fashion in a group of portraits of English women dressed in Turkish fashion, such as Mary Lennox, Duchess of Richmond (1774; Goodwood House, Chichester; no.45) and men in Van Dyck fashion, such as Sir John Reade (c.1776; Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; no.47) and Charles Brudenell- Bruce (1795; private collection; no.49). Baumgärtel suggests that, for women, Turkish clothing could be a statement of emancipation because it allowed them to discard corsets and wear trousers for the first time.

Spectacularly displayed in a room at the centre of the exhibition that is modelled on classicising interiors by Robert Adam are the four ceiling paintings that Kauffman painted for the Royal Academy (1778–80; Royal Academy of Arts; nos.34–41), which are being exhibited outside London for the first time. They are discussed in an essay by Helen Valentine in the catalogue. Once again, Baumgärtel wants to dispel misconceptions. Although numerous ceiling and wall paintings in English houses continue to be attributed to Kauffman, the Royal Academy allegories are the only such paintings known to have been created by her. They mark a departure from the illusionist style of most Baroque ceiling paintings and a return to the old type of the ‘quadro riportato’, that is, the tradition of Roman ceiling paiting with vertical perspective and no foreshortening, just as Anton Raphael Mengs had done for his ceiling fresco Parnassus (1760–61) in the Villa Albani, Rome.

The following thematic sections explore aspects of Kaufman’s history painting. Her depictions of scenes from English history, such as Eleanora sucking the venom out of the wound of her husband, Kind Edward I (1776; private collection; no.19), contributed to arenewal of interest in historical subjects in English painting that was to flower in the Gothic revival. In paintings that focus on women from Roman history and mythology as virtuous heroines, such as Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi (1785; Klassik Stiftung Weimar; no.52), Kauffman created new pictorial concepts of female courage.

In the section ‘Beautiful Young Men as “beau idéal”’ Baumgärtel argues that in depicting androgynous, delicate youths, as in Grieving Telemachus with Mentor on the island of Calypso (1788; Bündner Kunstmuseum, Chur; no.58) and Ganymede, cup-bearer to Zeus’s eagle (1793; Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz; no.62), Kauffman pursued an ideal of beauty that was derived from Winckelmann, subverting traditional concepts of male heroism. In the catalogue, Baumgärtel remarks that Kauffman’s ‘beau idéal’ is still often misunderstood as the result of the female artist’s incapacity to depict ‘true manliness’ (p.17).

The section ‘Parnassus and the Muses: Masquerades and Role Plays’ is another highlight of the exhibition. It examines the close relationship between Joshua Reynolds’s famous portrait of the Montgomery sisters, Three ladies adorning a term of Hymen (1773; Tate, London), and Kauffman’s portrait of the sisters Frances, Sophia and Susan Coutts (no.63; Fig.17). Both use the motif of crowning with a garland as a reference to a forthcoming betrothal and both allude to the subject of the Three Graces.

Kauffman’s friendship with Antonio Canova, sixteen years her junior, is discussed by Johannes Myssok in the catalogue. In the exhibition Canova’s modello (1781; Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia; no.77) for Theseus and the Minotaur (1782; Victoria and Albert Museum, London), a marble sculpture that stands at the beginning of Neo-classicism, is juxtaposed with Kauffman’s Joseph Johann Graf Fries with Canova’s ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ (1787; Wien Museum, Vienna; no.76). Fries, who purchased the marble, had himself portrayed with the modello prior to the group’s completion. A number of scenes on the subject of love round off this highly successful exhibition, among them a superb oil sketch (no.75; Fig.18) for the monumental Euphrosyne, wounded by Cupid complaining to Venus (after 1793; Attingham Park, Shropshire), painted for Thomas Noel-Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick.

1. See, accessed 12th August 2020.

2. Reviewed by W.W. Roworth in this Magazine, 141 (1999), pp.254–55. See B. Baumgärtel, ed.: exh. cat. Angelika Kauffmann, Düsseldorf (Kunstmusem), Munich (Haus der Kunst) and Chur (Bündner Kunstmuseum) 1998–99.

3. Catalogue: Verrückt nach Angelika Kauffmann. Edited by Bettina Baumgärtel. 208 pp. incl. 144 col. ills. (Hirmer Verlag, München, 2020), €45. ISBN 978–3–7774–3459–9. English edition: Angelica Kauffman, £35. ISBN 978–3–7774–3462–9.

4. ‘Angelika Kauffmann. Einer Malerin auf der Spur’, available at, accessed 12th August 2020.