A fictionalised autobiography of the painter Angelica Kaufmann, one of the two female founders of the Royal Academy. This is a novel about an artistic genius and a powerful woman living, like us, at a time of huge and bewildering change. View Angelica Kaufmann’s paintings in a Royal Academy exhibition, summer 2020.
A richly imagined and authoritative portrait of a fascinating and important painter, and a woman who was one of the most famous people of her era. Miller explores Angelica’s vivid and conflicted inner life with panache and passion.Jean McNeil – author of The Ice Diaries
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be awarded a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the Courtauld Institute, then housed in Somerset House. I became fascinated by the history of the building itself and by the story of the foundation of the Royal Academy there in 1768.
In the library deep in the basement I found two excellent books, James Fenton’s School of Genius, a wonderful introduction to the eighteenth century art world in London, and Angelica Gooden’s biography of Angelica Kauffman, Miss Angel. Until then I only knew her paintings from visits to Kenwood, a house I’ve known all my life. I stared at Zoffany’s painting of the life drawing room in Old Somerset House and was intrigued to see that portraits of Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were on the wall, staring down at the proceedings like ancestors. Although they were both alive and founder members of the royal Academy, as women they were not allowed to attend life drawing classes there because respectable ladies were not supposed to look at a naked man.
I discovered that Angelica spent her last twenty-five years in Rome, a city where I lived in my twenties and which I love. I had just returned there and longed to set a novel in Rome. Much else about Angelica’s story spoke to me: her talent, determination, independence, generosity and internationalism. I struggled to understand aspects of her personality that seemed more alien, for example her devout Catholicism and the pressure she was under to be ‘Miss Angel,’ the affectionate name her friend Joshua Reynolds gave her. Slowly, my interest developed into a passionate engagement with her and the many interesting people she painted and befriended. Every time I encountered a new name – Reynolds, Canova, Goethe, Madame de Stael and many more – I had to stop writing my novel and read a book, or several books, about them. I visited Weimar to learn more about Goethe, with whom I believe she was unrequitedly in love.
In order to make a successful career as an artist Angelica had to battle against powerful waves of misogyny. Those battles are still being fought; it was not until 1936 that another woman, Laura Knight, was elected as an RA. Finally, generations of talented women artists are beginning to be recognised. This is the right moment to rediscover Angelica Kauffman’s life and work.