Angelica Kauffman: Celebrity designer

Bacchus and Ariadne with Cupid, by Angelica Kauffmann, at Attingham Park, Shropshire. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Angelica Kauffman may have been hesitating between music and painting, as I showed previously, but she felt no need to choose between the fine and the decorative arts.

Kauffman collaborated with printmakers in the production of stipple engravings and mezzotints based on her paintings. She was directly involved in the production and marketing of her prints.

Print depicting Cupid, after Angelica Kauffman, in the Print Room at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Kauffman was one of the few contemporary artists whose works were used to make ‘mechanical paintings’ – a process of colour reproduction that was invented in the 1770s and was especially suited for use in decorative schemes.

Detail of the ceiling in the State Bedchamber at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The central roundel depicts Aglaia, one of the Three Graces, after Kauffmann. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Kauffman may have provided some sketches for architect and designer Robert Adam, but she was not directly responsible for the many decorative works attributed to her.

Painted roundel showing a wedding feast by Antonio Zucchi, Kauffman's husband, set in a stucco panel in the Eating Room at Osterley. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Although Kauffman’s designs were widely used on walls, ceilings, porcelain and furniture, most of them were actually copied or reproduced by others or simply based on her style.

Roundel depicting Venus guarding a sleeping Cupid after Kauffman on the marble mantelpiece in the Boudoir at Attingham. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Even so, the usefulness of her neo-classical figures as decorative motifs ensured the continuing popularity of the Kauffman ‘brand’.

5 Responses to “Angelica Kauffman: Celebrity designer”

  1. Barbara Says:

    She did not come from wealth & was functioning in a man’s world. Apparently she also was compelled to create. Even though she may have longed to create historical, religious, & mythological works, as did J S Copley, she was ultimately practical & pragmatic, producing portraits & design.

    Her success, marked by her acceptance at the highest levels of societies in England & Europe & by her inclusion among the founding members of the RA, is remarkable. From an early age, she made her own way, when that was not easy for a woman.

    By the way, here in the states, artist Charles Willson Peale(1741–1827), named several of his children after artists, including his daughter Angelica Kauffman Peale.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for those additional insights Barbara. The conflict between idealism and pragmatism seems to run through the biography of many artists in the second half of the eighteenth century.

    Poor little Angy Peale – such expectation heaped upon her :)

  3. Barbara Says:

    I think you are right about the tension between mere artisan portrait painting & the high art of grand historical paintings. That is why many of our best artists permanently left for England, such as Benjamin West & John Singleton Copley.

    Some real egos were involved here. West wrote to his aunt back in the colonies, “I will let them see if an obscure Yankee boy cannot shine as great as any of them.”

    And Copley wrote of the colonies, where he was born, “A taste of painting is too much wanting…and was it not for preserving the resemblance of particular persons, painting would not be known in the place. The people generally regard it as no more than any other useful trade…like that of a carpenter, tailor, or shoemaker, not as one of the most Noble arts in the world. Which is more than a little Mortifying to me.”

  4. le style et la matière Says:

    It is our age that obsesses with the separation of decorative and fine arts. She seems to have had a flair for promotion of her work / business with those mechanical paintings. Bully for her!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Barbara and Le Style, indeed, and isn’t it interesting that Kauffman was there at the birth of the Royal Academy, which was one of the ‘lobbying groups’ trying to promote the idea of an artist as more than a ‘mere’ craftsman.

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