Friday, 12 February 2010


Angelica Kauffman, R.A.,: Colour, ca. 1778-1780
Oil on canvas, 1300 X 1503 mm © The Royal Academy, London

I have been busy preparing a lecture on Angelica Kauffman and have therefore had little time for blogging, but this is an opportunity to mention her visualisation of the occupation of painting. This is one of four allegorical ceiling paintings she created for Somerset House (the first building to house Royal Academy) in 1778-80, now in Burlington House, The Royal Academy, London. is sometimes entitled "Painting", at other times "Self-portrait as Painter", "Colour" or, as in the case of the Bartolozzi print "Colouring". Like many other painters of the late 18th and early 19th century she referred to the rainbow in relation to colour. Newton's influence was clearly still very strong.
The rainbow is, of course, also a suitably picturesque element in an allegorical painting. Kauffman's painter dips cheekily into the colours of the rainbow to use them on her palette (we'll just forget about subtractive and additive colours for the moment, shall we?). I must admit, it is a lovely image. I wouldn't mind having a nice copy of it on my wall, though the effect of the rainbow is naturally lost in the un-coloured stipple engraving by Bartolozzi 1787:

By coincidence I found this use of the rainbow-inspired visualisation of colour, light and shade by George Field from 1845. Considerably later than Kauffman, but Field wrote and published on colour theory since the very early 1800s. Poor quality, could no use flash with this book:

What is perhaps more relevant is one of the first colour circles (1793) painted by Kauffman's personal friend Johann W. von Goethe, comprising Newton's rainbow colours:

He also used the image of the rainbow in 1827 to illustrate this handwritten version of one of his poems:

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