Self-portrait of the artist hesitating between music and painting (1791)
Austrian (1741 - 1807)
216 cm x 143.5 cm, oil on canvas
Angelica Kauffman was born in Switzerland, but settled in London in 1766. She was one of the most prominent English artists of the 18th century, one of only two founding female members of the Royal Academy and the last woman to be admitted until 1922. This painting, which is a very fine example of her work, was executed in Rome, where she lived with her husband, Antonio Zucchi, from 1781 until her death in 1807. It presents the artist as a kind of female Hercules, choosing not between Virtue and Vice, but between her profession as a painter, which was traditionally a male dominated field (the figure of Painting points to a far away temple, symbolizing the difficulty of her journey), and a career devoted to the easier, more traditionally feminine, Art of Music. In recent years, this self portrait has become an icon of the feminist interpretation of art history.... Another version, dated 1792, is in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
Way back when Angelica Kauffman was deciding what she wanted to do with her life, she was torn between her two passions, art and music.
She was so distraught at the difficulty of the decision that she went with her father to consult a priest in their home of Milan, who told her that while music would offer fast and easy rewards, it would be too distracting from her role as a devout young lady. So we have that priest to thank for the groundbreaking artist that is Angelica Kauffmann.
Reflecting upon that decision 40 years later, Angelica began the painting, Self-Portrait Hesitating Between Painting and Music. Music on the left has sheet music in her lap and is holding Angelica’s hand and Art on the right, wearing primary colors, has a color palette in her hand. By the demanding and somewhat pissy look on Art’s face and her insistent finger pointing her towards painting, we can see that Music was never going to win the battle for Angelica’s passion. And by the look on Music’s face, she knows that. Poor, sad Music.
So we know this painting is incredibly straightforward and not much is left to the analyst. Obviously, Angelica Kauffmann chose painting because this website is about seeing art differently, not seeing music differently. Despite all of that, the painting is actually pretty groundbreaking as a feminist work of art. The fact that Kauffmann was able to choose her own life path was a completely revolutionary idea for women at the time. So Here’s to this I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T woman.