Saturday, May 18, 2013

More on Sophie v La Roche, friend of Goethe, on her trip to London where she meets Gilbert Stuart; she writes that this portrait artist was criticised....why?

Sophie v. La Roche (1730- 1807)
Sophie, daughter of a German doctor, had the typical female education (of the upper class) with emphasis on language, art and literature, music and maintenance of household.  After making her formal debut into society, she was betrothed to Italian Giovanni Ludovico Bianconi, which broke apart over religious differences.  She then was engaged to the famed German poet, writer and philosopher Christoph Martin Wieland but this relationship did not survive geographical distance.  In 1753 she married Georg Michael Frank La Roche, secretary and estate manager of a state minister.  Of 8 children 5 survived to adulthood. In the 1760s Sohpie was a court lady at the duke’s castle of Warhausen—she had access to a large library, and helped with court correspondence (written in French).  Later the family having moved to Coblenz, Sophie carried on a literary salon, mentioned by Goethe.
Perhaps Sophie’s biggest claim to fame is being known as one of the first female authors of a novel (quite unacceptable in those days): Die Geschichte des Frauleins von Sternheim.
Sophie v. La Roche travelled to London accompanied by her son Carl, age 20. 

Portrait of Sophie v La Roche by Georg Oswald May, 1776

From her diary of the trip on SEPT 13, 1786; she and Carl visit the most famed artists of the day

   "An extraordinary day!  Pictures by Reynolds, Gainsborough, West, and Stuart; then to Green, the engraver’s. To my mind, in the homes of these men the English character glistens like the gold they employ for the encouragement and reward of diligence in art; the numerous orders and the artists’ prosperity are evidence of this.  Lovely homes, apartments hung with pictures by famous old masters, bronze and marble ornaments—these are one’s first impressions; then at Reynold’s, through a passage full of half-finished pictures, one enters a room lit from above, and where the quantity and beauty of the pictures heaped up there, as if conjured by a magic wand in their myriad forms and fascinating rhythms, leave one quite dumbfounded.  This is no exaggeration, for they are piled against each other in threes and fours.  Sir Joshua Reynolds was in the country, which disappointed me, as I should have liked to make his personal acquaintance and judge of his manner; for a clever man quite recently maintained ’that the works of painters and sculptors always reveal qualities of their own personality, in the same way as poets and moralists always put their main affections into the title role, with the strongest light thrown on to them.’
   I do not know whether this remark has any foundation, or whether I was prejudiced by the specious tone of the utterance, but I thought I saw some truth in it, as once a painter, who had very strong features, was criticised in all his really good and finished portraits for ‘making a credible likeness and beautiful picture with features too strong.’ " ...

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