The painting entered the Tate collection in 1967 as a self-portrait of Angelica Kauffmann, and was deemed to have been executed when she retired to Rome in the 1790s. However, in the 1970s this attribution was questioned and an earlier date placing it in the period she was working in Britain was adopted along with the more general title it now holds. Since then several attempts have been made to identify the sitter. Prominent late eighteenth-century female intellectuals such as the historian Catherine Macaulay and the writer Elizabeth Montagu have been suggested, prompted undoubtedly by the inclusion of the book, scroll, writing implement and statue of Minerva, who was associated with poetry and wisdom. However, the adoption of classical dress and use of classical statues was relatively commonplace for portraits at this time and could have featured in the depiction of any aspiring or would-be intellectual.
Portrait of a Lady
792 x 635 mm
Oil paint on canvas
Date of work
Swiss painter and etcher. Angelica Kauffman was a serious and prolific painter of portraits and one of the few women artists painting in the Neo-classical style to specialise in subject pictures as well. She attracted glittering and international patronage and was much admired by her fellow artists. At the age of 23 she was a founder member of the Royal Academy and an invited participant in virtually every important public project involving painting.