Angelica Kauffman was a successful and influential artist of the mid-late 1700s, and one of only two female founder members of the Royal Academy of Arts, in London in 1768. Despite also being a skilled portrait and landscape artist, she is remembered primarily for her success as a history painter. This was seen as the most elite category in academic painting at the time, and an unusual choice for a female artist.

Angelica Kauffman (1741 – 1807) was born in Switzerland.  Her father, also a painter, recognised his daughter’s artistic talents from an early age and taught her himself as the family journeyed between Austria, Switzerland and Italy. In Italy, she established a reputation as a brilliant artist and was elected a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. In 1766, Kauffman moved to London where she established a close friendship with the British painter Joshua Reynolds and developed her reputation as a great painter of ancient historical scenes.

When the Royal Academy of Arts was established by King George III in 1768, she and Mary Moser were the only two women of thirty four invited to become founder members. As in most other areas of life in the 1700s, male and female members were not treated equally. However, Angelica Kauffman gained influential status within the Academy. In 1775 she refused to allow a painting – The Conjurer by Nathaniel Hone – to be displayed in the Summer Exhibition, believing it reflected rumours of an affair between her and Joshua Reynolds.

In this self-portrait, Angelica Kauffmann projects her identity primarily as an artist, rather than a fashionable woman of society, by painting herself wearing ‘classical’ dress and holding a portfolio and ‘porte-crayon’, containing her charcoal.

 

Did you know..?

Angelica Kauffman was the last female member of the Royal Academy until the painter Annie Swynnerton was elected in 1922.

Sources & acknowledgements

This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.