Angelica Kauffman ★★★★ Royal Academy of Arts | Mar 1 - Jun 30, 2024


Angelica Kauffman is a remarkable artist and this long overdue exhibition serves as a fitting tribute both to her place in art history and to her work. Born in Switzerland in 1741, Kauffman spent much of her early life in Italy, and in 1766 she moved to London. She resided here until 1781, returning to Italy where she died in 1806. She was renowned in her time, but is not nearly as widely appreciated today. Kauffman achieved the extraordinary distinction of being one of only two women to be a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and she was widely patronised by royalty. This compact exhibition comprised of only four galleries offers a delightful insight into Kauffman's work and should whet the appetite to know more about her career and her output. Kauffman identified herself primarily as a history painter, but for us the outstanding pieces of this exhibition are her portraits. The presentation of the playwright and actor, David Garrick, and that of Sir Joshua Reynolds convey the sitters' humanity and display an amazing depth of character. There is an intimacy and personal presence that brings a powerful sense of the individuals being portrayed. Similarly, Kauffman's multiple self-portraits offer beautifully rendered insights into an individual celebrated across Europe for her culture and accomplishments. There is a sensitivity and delicacy in the work that is quite unique. On the other hand, Kauffman's historical and literary depictions have a formality and mannered presentation that almost distance one from their subjects. The emblematic nature of the pieces makes the generalised emotion induced rather unsatisfying in contrast to such work as her perceptive evocation of the scholar, Johann Joachim Winckelmann. The original mounting of this exhibition was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, so don't miss this opportunity to savour what is a discerning display of the work of one of the Royal Academy of Arts' distinguished founding members.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Angelica Kauffman, Self-portrait at the Crossroads between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1794. National Trust Collections (Nostell Priory, The St. Oswald Collection). Photo: © National Trust Images/John Hammond

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