THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
By descent to his daughter Elizabeth, who married Robert Maxwell of Islandmore, County Limerick in 1842;
By descent to their daughter-in-law, Mrs E. Maxwell, Dublin;
G. B. Smith;
His sale (probably on behalf of Mrs Maxwell), London, Christie's, 15 May 1886, lots 87 and 88, to McLean for 165 gns. and 60 gns. respectively;
Thence by descent in a Private Collection, Suffolk, until 1995;
With Josephine Fitzalan-Howard and Deborah Gage, London, 12 December 1995, from whom acquired by the present owner.
B. Baumgärtel, Angelika Kauffmann, exhibition catalogue, Düsseldorf 1998, pp. 214-215, cat. nos. 97 & 98.
The portraits depict the family of Joseph May and his wife Mary. Accompanying their father are the couple’s three sons (from left to right), Thomas Charles (1772-1837) aged 8, Joseph (b.1767), aged 12, and John (1775-1856), aged 5, whilst their three daughters are depicted with their mother; (from left to right) Louisa, the youngest Sophia Magaret, and Maria Emilia. The Mays were a wealthy family and Joseph, like his father before him, was a merchant based in Portugal, where he owned the British wine factory in Lisbon. His wife Mary was the daughter of John Coppendale (d.1824), a fellow merchant of Lisbon, and his wife Rose. Mary had been born in Lisbon in 1745, and the couple were married there on the 18th September 1764. In 1775 Joseph and his family left Portugal and the following year bought Hale Park in Hampshire from the Hon. Andrew Archer, the great nephew of the architect, Thomas Archer (1668-1743), who had designed and built the house in 1715. The family undertook extensive refurbishments, culminating with the complete remodelling of the house under the supervision of the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806), and it seems evident that, with their grand format, these two impressive pendants were conceived specifically with a view to their final placement in the house.
Responding to the natural symmetry of the family make up with characteristic initiative, Kauffmann’s treatment of the subject involves an ingenious visual programme based around the separation of the male and the female domains. With almost life size figures, which lend a directness to the composition, she emphasises the contrasting and yet complementary individual roles of her sitter’s within the domestic hierarchy. At the same time the graceful lines and harmony of the figural construction, as well as her treatment of individual poses, demonstrates Kauffmann’s extensive knowledge of Classical sculpture and design, and her skilful application of this language to ennoble her subject with the virtues inherent to antiquity. On the left Mary and her daughters are depicted in a frieze like arrangement, reminiscent of Greek reliefs, with the figures set before a pastoral landscape. While all three of the girls have a feeling of being inspired by Classical statuary, the reclining figure of Louisa in particular is reminiscent of that of the Sleeping Ariadne from the Vatican (a work of art the artist would have known well from her studies in Rome), and seems to imitate the pose with her playful gesture of putting a garland on her head. The femininity of the scene is enhanced through a limited palette of soft pastel tones, the predominance of smooth, undulating curves, and the associations of Arcadian landscape and the sensibility of nature. At the same time the centrality of Mary’s position within the family, and her role as the matriarchal figurehead, are emphasised by her position within the composition. Indeed, as Baumgärtel has suggested, Kauffmann draws on a long standing tradition within European portraiture to imbue the painting with Marian associations, in which the central figure (possibly in part reference to her Christian name) takes on the role of the Madonna, and the youngest daughter, Sophia Margaret, is presented as the Christ child.
On the right Kauffmann inverts this concept to depict the male domain, with Joseph as the patriarchal figure head, watching over his three sons. The palette is bolder, the surroundings more sober, and the arrangement of the figures, though still frieze like and grounded in an understanding of classical harmony, is more dynamic, while the interaction between them is more rhetorical. Only John, the youngest of the three boys looks out to engage the viewer. Unlike his mother and sisters, who largely direct their gaze towards the viewer, his father and elder brothers are engaged in discussion, there attention focused upon a globe. As a prosperous mercantile family their fortunes were dependent on trade and mastery of the shifts in contemporary geo-politics, a subject their father is clearly concerned his sons should comprehend. On close inspection we see that it is Portugal to which the eldest boy points on the map, whilst glancing back at his father with an enquiring look - the origin of the family’s fortune and the centre of their fathers business concerns. The boys enquiring gaze is reciprocated by the gesture of his father’s outstretched hand, which imbues the picture with a sense of lineage and dynastic inheritance, as well as lending it a sense of place, all of which are essential elements, not only of the traditions of contemporary British portraiture, but of the eighteenth century male dominated world view. In contrast with the female domain, Kauffmann has outlined her male sitters against a neutral background, lending greater solidity to the composition, and a heightened sense of gravitas. Together they masterfully depict the different spheres, both male and female, within the dynamic of a prosperous eighteenth century family, whilst at the same time expressing the contrasting hopes and aspirations of the parents for their six children.
One of the most cultured women of her generation in Europe, and one of the most influential women of the eighteenth century, Angelica Kauffmann holds a place of particular importance in European art history. A talented musician, as well as one of the first truly great professional female artists, she was both a brilliant history and portrait painter. Born in Switzerland, and having trained in Rome, where she befriended the English neo-Classical painters Gavin Hamilton and Nathaniel Dance, she came to England in 1766. In London she quickly became a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom she is rumoured to have nearly married at one point, and many of the most prominent cultural figures in England, including David Garrick. Fluent in English, French, Italian and German, her charm, whit, intelligence, and skill attracted much attention, and she was highly sought after by many of the foremost connoisseurs of the day, including members of the Royal family. In 1781, following her marriage to the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, she returned to Rome where her studio became a popular stop for fashionable visitors on the grand tour, including artists, writers, aristocrats and dealers from across Europe. Her clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Catherine the Great of Russia, and she was close friends with international luminaries such as Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton.
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