Paintress of Minds
Published by Barbican Press, 2020
When Angelica Kauffman arrives in London as a young woman in 1766, she is so successful that a new word is coined: Angelicamad. Many years later in Rome, as an old lady, she is afraid of the new century which is destroying the world she knew. Napoleon’s armies are storming Italy and she expects her work to be looted. She tells her life story through the portraits she painted and the friendships she enjoyed with Goethe, Emma Hamilton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Madame de Stael and Canova.
Miranda Miller’s novel, a first-person account of the life of the 18th-century Swiss neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffman, faithfully reflects the career of the somewhat overlooked founding member of the Royal Academy… A fascinating life and a fine painter in what’s a story well told by Miller.
The novel is beautifully written, with phrases like the young Angelica thinking “titles make a special shape in the air when people speak them, high and arched”. Kauffmann is presented as hard-working, loyal, kind, sometimes susceptible but more determined than she thinks she is. She had to be, for hers was a man’s world. Her artistic talent was only permitted to grow in the first place because her father eventually enabled it.
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.