Born Maria Anna Angelika Katharina Kauffmann in Switzerland in 1741 to Austrian parents, Angelica Kauffman is one of the first great female artists. Her father was a painter and soon began teaching his daughter. At the age of 13 she traveled to Milan with him, she was already painting bishops and minor nobles.
In the 1760s she again traveled through Italy. In 1764 in Rome she painted Johann Joachim Winckelmann, called the founder of modern archeology and was also an art historian. His influence helped the rise of neoclassicism. In a letter to a friend he mentioned her skill, easy ability with language, her beauty and even her gift of singing.
Kauffman met Lady Wentworth, wife to the Second Earl of Strafford, in Venice and upon suggestion journeyed to London. One of her first works in London was of David Garrick, a famous actor, playwright and theater manager of Drury Lane. She was well received in London and soon befriended Sir Joshua Reynolds, the famous British artist. Reynolds was the first president for the Royal Academy (founded in 1769) and Kauffman was one of two female founders out of a total of 40 artists.
She was also a member of the Bluestockings (such as writer Hester Chapone) and was featured in a painting by 1779 Richard Samuel of the group.
While Kauffman painted many genres, she primarily considered herself a history painter. Wikipedia says this about her on the topic:
History painting, as defined in academic art theory, was classified as the most elevated category. Its subject matter was the representation of human actions based on themes from history, mythology, literature, and scripture. This required extensive learning in biblical and Classical literature, knowledge of art theory and a practical training that included the study of anatomy from the male nude. Most women were denied access to such training, especially the opportunity to draw from nude models; yet Kauffman managed to cross the gender boundary to acquire the necessary skill to build a reputation as a successful history painter who was admired by colleagues and eagerly sought by patrons.
She ultimately left Britain for the Continent where history painting was more established and better received. Kauffman’s popularity also declined for a period, possibly due to a poorly matched marriage, she did produce works in her later life, especially after her second marriage to a Venetian artist. She returned to Rome and befriended, among others, John von Goethe, and her popularity returned. In her final years she produced very little and she died in Rome in 1807, much loved and being given an honored funeral.