This rare, large-scale compositional drawing by Angelica Kauffman was made in preparation for a celebrated portrait of Rebecca Lady Rushout, the daughter of Kauffman’s most important patron George Bowles. The portrait, now in a private collection, was completed in 1773, the year it was exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The drawing remained in the with Rushout’s descendants until it was sold in 1920. The drawing was reproduced in Manners and Williamson in 1924 but has been unknown since then.
Angelica Kauffman was recognised as a child prodigy. Her childhood was spent travelling through Switzerland, Austria, and northern Italy working with her father on small ecclesiastical murals. By the age of fifteen she was accepting her own commissions, and when she went to Rome in 1763, she was welcomed by the leading artists of the day. She exhibited her painting Bacchus and Ariadne and Penelope in 1764, and Winckelmann proposed her election to the Accademia di San Luca in 1765. The next year Kauffmann left her father and began a successful career in London, where she was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy and sent pictures to their exhibitions from 1769 until 1797.
In London Kauffman forged an immensely successful career as a portraitist. Kauffman developed a mode of portraiture derived, in part, from her relationship with Joshua Reynolds. Kauffman became master of complex compositions. These pictures, often full-lengths with multiple figures, presented sitters in learned allegorical guises, invested simultaneously with classical gravity and lyrical charm. Her audiences identified this grace with sentiment, a mode of expression emerging in eighteenth-century England and tied inextricably to femininity. Kauffman’s portrait of Rebecca Lady Rushout and her daughter demonstrates Kauffman’s mastery of the small-scale whole-length format, showing the sitters in loosely classical costume arranged in a landscape. Rebecca, daughter of Humphrey Bowles of Wanstead, married in 1766 John Rushout, created Baron Northwick in 1797. Of the children seen here, Anne died unmarried (1849); Harriet married her cousin, Charles (later Sir Charles) Cockerell of Sezincote and John succeeded his father as 2nd Lord Northwick in 1800. The union of the Bowles and Rushout families over two generations was to be an auspicious one. George Bowles of The Grove, Wanstead was a munificent collector of contemporary pictures and is best known as Angelica Kauffman’s most prolific non-Royal patron, owning some fifty pictures by her. John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick was to become one of the most important and prolific British collectors of the nineteenth century.
The present beautifully worked drawing is comparatively rare in Kauffman’s oeuvre and is unusual in having passed to the sitter. Conceived as a compositional study, the drawing is executed rapidly in black chalk on blue paper and then overlaid with coloured watercolour and heightened with white chalk. As Angela Rosenthal has noted, discussing the present sheet:
‘Kauffman’s compositional process is documented in her drawings, from brief compositional sketches to more elaborate – sometimes even coloured -modelli, for the most part on blue paper with added highlights. Of this type is the preparatory sketch for her portrait of Lady Rushout and her Daughter, Anne, which, though smaller in size than the canvas, bears on its edges the marks for transfer to the large scale. Drawings of this kind were often passed to the client for consideration, and, on a few occasions, sold as works of art in their own right.’
Rosenthal assumes that the drawing, with its careful scale, was made in preparation for the finished portrait, but it might be related to the stipple engraving that was published by William Dickinson in 1784.