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The Family of the Earl of Gower

Angelica Kauffman1772/1772

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, D.C., United States

“The Family of the Earl of Gower” demonstrates Angelica Kauffman’s ability to render complex, multi-figure compositions. It also illustrates her frequent inclusion of classicizing elements in contemporary scenes.

Granville Leveson-Gower (1721–1803), known as Viscount Trentham, the Earl Gower, and the first Marquess of Stafford, was a British politician. Kauffman depicts him as the patriarch of his large family, which has gathered in a park-like setting.  The lyrical costumes, lyre, scroll, floral garlands, and marble bust, which bears a slight resemblence to the earl, all reference classical antiquity.

The Neoclassical composition forms an implied triangle that begins at the far right with Lady Susannah, the earl’s third wife. Our eyes travel left to the daughter in the rose-colored rose-colored tunic at the apex of the triangle and downward to the daughter seated beside the bust, forming the triangle’s third corner.

The earl’s son and heir, 14-year-old George Leveson-Gower, eventually the first Duke of Sutherland, carries a book to signal his erudition. The three youngest daughters form their own vignette, seemingly focused on the rites of spring and perhaps fertility and birth (Lady Susannah was pregnant in 1772), symbolized by the lamb.

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  • Title: The Family of the Earl of Gower
  • Creator: Angelica Kauffman
  • Date: 1772/1772
  • artist profile: Angelica Kauffman was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts and one of London’s most sought-after portraitists.  A child prodigy who was producing commissioned portraits in her early teens, Kauffman was trained by her father, the Swiss muralist Johann Joseph Kauffman. During the early 1760s, she traveled through Switzerland, Austria, and Italy working as her father’s assistant. This transient life provided her the rare opportunity for a woman to see and copy many classical and Renaissance masterworks and to meet leaders of the popular new movement known as Neoclassicism. During a three-year stay in Italy, Kauffman made her reputation as a painter of portraits; she also produced history paintings. Recognition of her accomplishments is indicated by her election to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1765. In 1766, Kauffman moved to London, where she achieved immediate success as a portraitist. Over the next 16 years, she exhibited regularly at the prestigious Royal Academy and worked for a glittering array of aristocratic and royal patrons. In 1781, Kauffman married the painter Antonio Zucchi, who succeeded her father as her business manager. By the time of her death, she had achieved such renown that her funeral was directed by the prominent Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who based it on the funeral of the Renaissance master Raphael.
  • Style: Neoclassicism
  • Physical Dimensions: w82 x h59.25 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibitions: “An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum,” 2003; “Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987–1997,” 1997–98; “Four Centuries of Women’s Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts,” 1990–91

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