Anne Killigrew: artist, poet, courtier

Amid the turbulence and instability of much of the seventeenth century, there was still room for education and culture to flourish, and women in particular were proving they could be just as skilled and talented as men, even if opportunity or gender bias meant that these talents were often left unrealised.

History has left us the names of several woman from this time who defied conventions and became poets, artists, writers, philosophers  or scientists. One such remarkable lady was Anne Killigrew, a member of a large and successful noble family that was close to the royal courts of Charles I and Charles II.

In the below portrait by Peter Lely, Anne is portrayed while painting,  in what is believed to be the only such-themed portrait by Sir Peter, as well as a rare depiction of a female artist at work. The picture and its significance are described in greater detail by the current holders Philip Mould & Co.

anne-killigrew
Portrait of a Lady, traditionally identified as Anne Killigrew (1660-85)

Although remembered more for her poetry, of which a collection was published after her death, she was also a skilled painter and portraitist. A self-portrait hangs at Berkeley Castle, and although I have been unable to find an image of it online, here is a mezzotint said to be based on the original:

anne-killigrew-self-portrait

Only a handful of her paintings are known to survive today, including this, of James II, now part of the Royal Collection.

james-ii-by-ak

Sadly, Anne died of smallpox at around 25 years old, yet another talent cut off too soon. If her poetry and portraits are examples of what she achieved in those short years, we can only imagine what  she might have produced had she had more time.  We do not know  where she gained her skills in painting, or who, if anyone, instructed her, but being so close to the royal court she would have had easy access to the great works in that collection, works by almost an entirety of celebrated male artists, and I think her own paintings stand up well against them. Not as the paintings of a woman, but as an artist the equal, in my view, of many of those men that came before.

 

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