Revolution on Canvas: The Rise of Women Artists in London and Paris, 1760–1830 by Paris A Spies-Gans - review by Norma Clarke

Norma Clarke

Pioneering Paintresses

Revolution on Canvas: The Rise of Women Artists in London and Paris, 1760–1830


Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art 336pp £45 order from our bookshop

In 1771 Johan Zoffany received a prestigious commission from King George III: to paint a group portrait, or conversation piece, of the artists elected to the newly formed Royal Academy. Zoffany chose to depict them in the life-drawing studio, gathered in a semicircle contemplating two nude male models. There were, as it happens, two women among the original Academicians: Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman. Had Zoffany hit on another location, he might have incorporated them in the main group, alongside the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Richard Wilson and Paul Sandby, to reflect their active membership of the most significant institution for artists of their time. Instead, the best he could do was display them as part of the decoration of the room, alongside the busts and statues that form the background: they appear in pictures hung on the wall.

Zoffany’s painting – the men so full of life and engaged with each other, the women so flat and still – powerfully misrepresents reality. Of course, women artists did not mingle in the life studio and stare hard at nude male models, but Moser and Kauffman were not

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