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Angelica Kauffmann

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Angelica Kauffmann

by Angelica Kauffmann
oil on canvas, circa 1770-1775
29 in. x 24 in. (737 mm x 610 mm)
Purchased, 1876
Primary Collection
NPG 430

On display in Room 18 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), Painter. Sitter in 9 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 23 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), Painter. Artist or producer associated with 23 portraits, Sitter in 9 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In this self portrait, Kauffmann holds a portfolio and 'porte-crayon', containing her charcoal. She wears an imaginary, 'classical' garment which refers to her place in a lineage of artists. By distancing herself from society and fashion, and depicting herself with the tools of her trade, she makes claims for her principal identity as artist rather than woman.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 36 Read entry

    Swiss Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was one of two female founder-members (1768) of the Royal Academy of Arts (RA), London (the flower painter Mary Moser was the other). She achieved this when women were generally marginalised from the visual arts. Kauffmann’s father (like Moser’s) was an artist, Johann Joseph Kauffmann, who guided his daughter’s precocious talent. She spent time in Italy, specialising in history and portrait painting, and joining the Accademia di San Luca, Rome, in 1764. Her portrait of the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann of 1764 brought her international attention. In London, between 1766 and 1781, she enjoyed continuing patronage and support from King George III, among other notables – including Joshua Reynolds, then Britain’s most influential painter and first president of the RA. However, Kauffmann’s trailblazing was tempered by the treatment given to her and Moser in Johan Zoffany’s The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-2). Unlike the men, who are depicted in person, the women feature only as portraits hanging on the wall – reflecting the fact that they were not allowed inside life-drawing classes, which that painting depicts.

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  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 120
  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 8
  • Flavia Frigeri, Women At Work: 1900 to Now, 2023, p. 133
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 298
  • Lydia Miller; Samira Ahmed, Inspirational Women: Rediscovering stories in Art, Science and Social Reform, 2022, p. 24
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 44
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 16
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 7 Read entry

    Born in Switzerland, Angelica Kauffmann was a child prodigy who painted her first self-portrait, with music score, aged thirteen. She was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and in 1787 was commissioned to produce a self-portrait for the prestigious Vasari Corridor in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The resulting work is similar to this self-portrait in that she is also dressed in white and holds a porte-crayon in her right hand, as if in the act of drawing.

  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 37 Read entry

    Angelica Kauffmann was born in Switzerland. She was equally talented as a musician and as an artist. Her mother died when she was sixteen and her father (also an artist) taught her and travelled with her to Italy, where she was permitted to copy paintings in a private room in the Uffizi. In her book The Obstacle Race: The fortunes of women painters and their work (1979) Germaine Greer called her a 'marvellous hybrid: free from the overwhelming influence of any single master'.

    In 1762 Kauffmann was accepted as a member of the Accademia del Disegno, Florence, and in 1763 she went to Rome, where she became friends with the German historian and art critic Johann Winckelmann (1717-68), making her name with her portrait of him in 1764. She came to London in 1766 and two years later became a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts (the only other female member was Mary Moser). Kauffmann painted Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1767 and was described by the contemporary writer James Boswell as 'musician, paintress, modest, amiable'. Her work was popular and her decorative history pieces were widely engraved and used in the manufacture of objets d'art. She painted many self-portraits, the first at the age of just thirteen, and used herself as the protagonist in her allegorical works, for example as 'Design', as 'Imitation', and in the painting Self-portrait in the Character of Painting Embraced by Poetry (1782; Kenwood, The Iveagh Bequest). In 1781 she married the artist Antonio Zucchi (1726-95; her first marriage was a failure - to a bigamist count). Zucchi, a less distinguished painter, was an ideal husband - he could assume the role of male chaperone and mediator - and she returned to Italy with him and her father, who died in 1782. In 1785 she painted a history painting for Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and in 1787 she came back to Rome when she was invited to contribute her self-portrait to the prestigious Medici collection of self-portraits in the Uffizi. In that same year she became friends with the great German poet Goethe (1749-1832).

    In this self-portrait Kauffmann points to herself whilst looking at us and balancing her drawing book under her right hand, which is poised ready to draw with her pastel. The latter is held firmly in a 'porte-crayon', which allowed more flexibility of movement, and therefore more fluid and gestural marks, by adding length to the pastel stick. (At this time pastels would have been quite stumpy and fragile as they were handmade from pure pigment and gum arabic.) The painting is bathed in a warm soft light. Kauffmann's skin appears translucent and her clothing echoes the folds and curls of her tumbling hair. Distinctly feminine and seductive, the work reinforces her determination as a woman artist rather than merely showing off her skills. Kauffmann presents herself and the tools of her trade as an aesthetic statement.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 48
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 345
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 109 Read entry

    Angelica Kauffmann was one of the few women in the eighteenth century to achieve an international reputation as an artist. Born in Switzerland, she was raised in Italy and showed precocious talent for both art and music but made the difficult decision to focus on becoming a professional painter. Women were not allowed to draw naked life models, so Kauffmann learned anatomy by studying classical statues. In Rome her work gained favour with British travellers visiting the city on their Grand Tour, which persuaded her to come to England in 1766. Here, she developed a following for her portraits and historical scenes. Her status as an artist was such that in 1768, she became one of the thirty-six founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts. She returned to Italy thirteen years later.

    Kauffmann painted a number of self-portraits that celebrated her identity as an artist. She shows herself here with the tools of her trade. The positioning of her crossed arms appears to modestly shield her body but her gaze is confidently directed towards the viewer. Kauffmann thus addressed any potential criticism by asserting that her professional achievements were completely compatible with the beauty and virtue expected of a lady.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1770back to top

Current affairs

Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton resigns as Prime Minister and is succeeded by Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford.

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Oliver Goldsmith publishes his poem The Deserted Village.
Philosopher and politician Edmund Burke publishes Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents discussing the limits of the King's authority.
17-year-old Thomas Chatterton, later hailed as a significant poet, commits suicide in a London garret.
Thomas Gainsborough paints his portrait of Jonathan Buttall, which later becomes known as The Blue Boy.


'Townshend duties' on imports into the colonies are repealed, except for the duty on tea. However, this concession is soon followed by the Boston Massacre, in which British troops fire into an unruly crowd in Boston, killing five.
Captain Cook reaches the eastern coast of Australia, at a place which he names Botany Bay. He discovers the Great Barrier Reef when HMS Endeavour runs onto it. Cook claims New South Wales for the British.

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