This drawing was probably done after life, as a preparation for the portrait of Emma Hamilton as a Comic Muse (B. Baumgärtel, op. cit., fig. 131). The picture was painted by Angelika Kauffman in Rome in December 1791, the year that Emma Hart (circa 1765-1815) had married Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples. The picture must have stayed longer in Rome as it took two years to reach the Palazzo Sessa, Hamilton's house. The picture was sold with Hamilton's estate in 1801.
Wendy Wassyng Roworth points out that 'the style and treatment of the drawing, especially around the eyes, is characteristic of Kauffmann's work in the early 1790s. A similar preparatory portrait drawing in black chalk represents Domenica Morghen (Tiroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck) for the double portrait of Morghen and Maddalena Volpato as the Muses of Tragedy and Comedy, 1792 (Warsaw, National Museum), see B. Baumgärtel, op. cit., pp. 264-6' (in a communication dated 25 March 2002).
A portrait Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun of Emma Hamilton in a similar attitude was at the Syon Park sale at Sotheby's, 14-26 May 1997, lot 226. That portrait was drawn by Vigée-Le Brun on a door, and slightly predates the present one.
We are grateful to Dr. Bettina Baumgärtel and Wendy Wassyng Roworth for confirming the attribution of this drawing to Angelika Kauffman on the basis of a photograph. Dr. Baumgärtel will include this drawing in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.
Emma Hamilton was born Emma Lyon in modest circumstances in a mining village in Cheshire. Her father was an illiterate blacksmith who died shortly after her birth, her mother a maid. Most of her childhood is obscure, but by the age of only 13, facing a life of domestic service Emma had turned to prostitution as an alternate means of livelihood.
Emma had a series of protectors during her young adult years until she met Charles Greville, a young man who would change her name to Emma Hart and use her as a commodity. Under Greville's influence, Emma was taught to sing and act in an effort to enhance her attributes and make a usable source of entertainment. Greville also introduced Emma to his friend George Romney, the portrait painter who like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Richard Cosway and Angelica Kauffman would delight in capturing her exceptional beauty.
After four years together, Greville passed Emma on to his middle-aged uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, in exchange for debts. Initially, Sir William objected, saying that, as a middle-aged man, he deemed himself unsuitable. Interested in securing his financial future, Greville convinced Sir William otherwise. He told Emma that she was being sent to Naples for a holiday, but the plan was for her not to return to Greville but live with Sir William. In return Greville would inherit his uncle's fortune.
On 6 September 1791, five years after Emma's arrival in Naples, the couple married and she became Lady Hamilton. She was taught by Sir William to expand her singing and dancing repertoire and perform 'attitudes', a series of poses and dramatic vignettes, representing classical figures and scenes from history and literature. Emma's 'attitudes' bought her fame, and were especially appreciated by King Ferdinand and by his Queen Maria Carolina to whom she would later become a confidante.
The marriage continued despite Emma's affair with Horatio Nelson. The two met during Nelson's stay in Naples while he recovered from an injury received in battle. In the years between their meeting and Sir William's death in 1803, the affair between the two lovers was never hidden from the public. Their child, Horatia Nelson Thomas, was recognized as their own and Emma lived openly with Nelson in his home until his death at Trafalgar in 1805.
Lady Hamilton's life ended bitterly as her gambling habits and extravagant lifestyle led her to a debtor's prison. She died a poor widow in Calais, having lost the beauty that was once admired and captured by so many artists.