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In 1768, when King George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts in London, it had 34 members, only two of whom were women. Swiss-born history painter and portraitist Angelica Kauffmann was one of them. The sole traditional single portrait in this exhibition is Isabella Hunter (c. 1776-1790). The beautiful sitter donned with milky silk dress blushes bashfully, but does not shy away from confronting the viewer with her clear hazel eyes. Her direct gaze has qualities not of lust, which was so often the trait given to female figures by male artists, but of grace and serenity. As a result, Hunter's dignity is elevated to an almost divine level. Hidden in the canvas are elements that act together to support the sitter's beauty; of course, these elements are given differentiating treatment by the artist. She sits in front of a passing storm, which she may even have been intended to have calmed down with her presence, edged with just enough shrubs. The face is most carefully painted, with featherlike layers of brush strokes, creating a soft yet intense focal point. Curiously, she holds in her hands not a white dove as a classical symbol of peace, but a grey pigeon. Does the artist mean to convey to us that Hunter's elegance is enough to incarnate that virtue? It is the combination of technical and metaphorical artistry that gives life to this painting, giving and maintaining miraculously to this day, a lasting life that beckons awe.

Details

  • Title: Isabella Hunter
  • Creator: Angelica Kauffman (Swiss, 1741-1807)
  • Date Created: 1776/1790
  • Physical Location: USC Fisher Museum of Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Holmes Fisher, EF:39
  • Physical Dimensions: 76.2 x 63.5 cm (30 x 25 in.)
  • Subject Keywords: Portrait
  • Rights: Photography by Luna Imaging
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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