Art, Art History, Artists, Painters, Who was/is

Who was Angelica Kauffman?

Angelica Kauffman (as she is usually known in English) or Maria Anna Angelika Kauffmann was a Swiss Neoclassical painter who developed a successful career in England and in Italy. She was a very skilled portraitist, landscape and decoration painter, but her most important works are undoubtedly the historical paintings. Kauffman was one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London in 1768.

Self-portrait (1770-1775) – National Portrait Gallery

Kauffman was educated by her father who was a skilled painter and muralist who travelled a lot for his work. He was the responsible for training Angelica while she travelled with him as his assistant. She learnt several languages from her mother as German, English, French and Italian, she was also an accomplished musician. With only twelve years she was already known as a painter with nobles and bishops among her sitters.

According to German art historian Winckelmann, who met her in Italy, she spoke Italian as well as German and could express herself with great facility in French and English. Her work appeared in England for the first time in 1765, in an exhibition of the Free Society of Artists, shortly after this Kauffman moved to England where she established herself as a leading artist.

Self-portait hesitating between the arts of music and painting (1794) –
The St Oswald Collection, Nostell Priory.

In 1768 she was a founding member of the Royal Academy in London, sharing this honour with Mary Moser, both being the only women artists of the Academy. The next year she contributed to the first catalogue of the Royal Academy (1769) with the Interview of Hector and Andromache and other three classical compositions.

Unlike the women artists of her time, Kauffman identified herself as a history painter, what was an unusual designation for a woman artist in the 18th century, because it was almost a forbidden gender for a woman to paint. History painting was considered in academic art theory as the most elevated category, its subject matter was the representation of human actions inspired on themes from history, mythology, literature and scripture, what required an extensive learning in biblical and classical literature, knowledge of art theory and in practical training in the study of anatomy of the male nude. To most women were very difficult to have access to this type of training, but to all of them the access to the drawing classes with nude models were denied. And to those who dared to work with the historic painting risked their reputation, Kauffman was one of a few who did it successfully.


  • In 1762 Kauffman became a member of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze.
  • Angelica Kauffman was a very talented musician that she was forced to choose between music (opera) and art. In 1794, she painted a self-portrait in which she highlighted how difficult it had been for her to choose painting as her only career (Self-portait hesitating between the arts of music and painting).
  • In 1990 was created the AKRP (Angelika Kauffmann Research Project) its aim is to sketch an overall picture of the life and work of this wonderful artist, and a view of the places where she worked as well as the art and culture of her time.