Tag Archives: Johann Zoffany

The Academicians, the Decapatated Women, and the Chinese Guy

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, Johann Zoffany

Painted by Johann Zoffany,  a German born painter who studied in England before moving to England where he became known for painting small group scenes [1], The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, based on Raphael’s School of Athens,  portrays “a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Academicians, shot through with humour and affection: a tribute to the brotherhood shared by artists involved in this fledgling institution. Rather than showcasing an artistic community at work – educating or being educated – it explores the individual character of the various protagonists, as they talk, listen, contemplate, or simply strike poses” [2].   This painting is in contrast to other paintings that focused on the academicians at work, in a space of learning.  Despite the models being in the room, the portrait is attempting to show the academicians as they were.  Based on the class conversation we had, if that was a stated goal of the painting, I assume that the people were placed together in specific ways.  However, being so far removed from the context makes it impossible to know what relationships are being highlighted.

 One of the things I found interesting about this painting, as was noted in the book, and source [2], is that the two women members of the Academy, even when being portrayed in a scene that is outside of the confines of education, are allowed to exist only in a “virtual” form.  Mary Mauser and Angelica Kauffman are portrait paintings on the wall, in profile and three-quarters view.  The decision to include nude male models makes the scene to indecent for the women to be present [2], but I can’t help but wonder if their inclusion would have ignited debates over the souls and work lives of women artists.  While I understand the discomfort with their presence relative to their time and place in history, what I find peculiar is how the other virtually present women’s bodies are placed, in addition to Mauser and Kauffman losing their bodies.

The walls in the room are covered in bits and pieces of women’s bodies.  There are also some additional women’s heads without bodies.  I am not positive but I think the full body sculptures are all men, meaning all the women in the painting are portrayed as though decapitated.  There is one image of the female form that I find particularly disturbing, despite the headless state of all of them.  Given that the reason the two women who were part of the academy cannot be portrayed is that there are nude models present, I am not sure what having a model in the process of disrobing next to a mutilated female form laying on the ground underneath him while one of the academy members stabs her just above her pelvis with a walking stick is saying.  I find this mini-scene within a scene particularly jarring because it is one of the two areas of the painting where the gaze of a person, the male model, is pointed outward, towards the viewer.  The only other person who looks out of the painting is the virtual presence of Angelica Kauffman.  Given that it is his presence along with his colleague behind him that are literally cutting the women out of the painting, and Angelica is one of these cut out women, I cannot help but wonder if this configuration of bodies and body parts is intentional (though I cannot figure out why the body is being stabbed).

The second part of the image that caught me off-guard was the inclusion of  Chitqua (Tan Chet Qua) (active 1769-died 1796), Chinese artist. Sitter in 3 portraits [3].  The reason I find his inclusion so striking is because when I imagine what a Royal Academy gathering would look like, more than the absence of woman, the inclusion of people who are not of European ancestry was not what I was expecting.  After doing a bit of web research I’ve learned that my initial thoughts might be correct.

The only gate-crasher to this party is the Chinese artist, Tan-che-qua (fifth from the left), who happened to be in London at the time. Apart from curiosity value, his inclusion here may be a reminder of the writer of the Royal Academy’s Professor of Poetry, Oliver Goldsmith (?1730-74), who published a series of letters, with the title The Citizen of the World, supposedly written by a Chinaman visiting England [4].

While this quotes allows for the Chinese artist to be a “Gate Crasher”, it also places Chinese thought and art in dialogue with European art and thought in a way I was not aware of at this period in time.  I think this is important, especially given the context of this course because, while we’ve discussed gender at length, I think this might be our first racial encounter, outside of the White Boyz, we’ve had.  His inclusion, along with the international makeup of the sitters, (10 of 34 were not British [5]), forces me to re-frame how I imagine the Royal Academy.

1. http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=3584
2. http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/ra-magazine/spring-2012/johan-zoffany-finding-the-founders,342,RAMA.html
3. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00357/Key-to-The-Academicians-of-the-Royal-Academy?LinkID=mp04991&role=sit&rNo=2#sitter
4. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?object=400747&row=0&detail=about
5. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=419266&sectioncode=26

Academic Limitations and Market Opportunities

Johann Zoffany The Academicians of the Royal Academy 1771-2 (source: artstor)

Although this week’s readings from Gender and Art ranged in subject matter from the masculine and nationalist attributes of English architecture  to the role of women in European academies, the latter topic took center stage in our discussion. I began with a proposal that tropes such as “double standards” and “the glass ceiling,” which describe the obstacles that prevent women (and other groups) from achieving equity in the workplace today, can also be applied to the 18th-century French and English academies. These academies functioned as gatekeepers, vetting members for skill and largely excluding women and non-white artists, although Jade made the great point that in Johann Zoffany’s The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-2), a Chinese Academician appears in one of the figure groupings at the far left of the picture.  Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser, however, the two women in the Royal Academy, were excluded from life classes and appear only as portraits that are nearly lost in the background of this busy scene.

Jean-Antoine Watteau The Shop-Sign of Gersaint 1721 (source: artstor)

As our discussion moved to the female members of the French Academy Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, we honed in on the idea that the academy was not the only institution vetting artists or dictating the ideal subjects of their output. As we explored the situation of Vigée-Lebrun, who was married to the art dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun (the same Lebrun who was a crucial force behind the Louvre, as Jess pointed out), we made room for the powerful role that market forces played in the art world of this era. History painting represented the apogee of painting within the academy, but portraits and still lifes that testified to the power and wealth of private patrons dominated the market.

Women artists who were associated with these “lesser” painting categories would thus have received reinforcement from the commercial marketplace that they did not get from the academy. And as Jade and Professor Powell brought up, France’s dominant salon culture also meant that women played an important role as consumers and tastemakers outside of the academy, as reflected by the powerful women in Watteau’s scene of shopping in the gallery of Gersaint, another important 18th-century French art dealer. As the above juxtaposition of Zoffany’s academy and Watteau’s marketplace shows, while women did not occupy strong positions in academic spaces, they were compelling figures in the market settings.