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Oil painting - A Sleeping Nymph Watched by a Shepherd
  • A Sleeping Nymph Watched by a Shepherd
    Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807
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A Sleeping Nymph Watched by a Shepherd

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1780 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on copper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery, case WW

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland and was seen as a child prodigy. She soon specialised in history and portraits paintings while in Italy (especially Florence, Rome and Naples, Bologna, Parma and Venice) she was influenced by the nascent Neo-classical style. She became a member of the Roman Accademia di San Luca at the age of 23. She arrived in London in June 1766 and remained there for 15 years before moving back to Italy with her second husband the painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1796). In London, she was a founder-member of the Royal Academy. All her life, she enjoyed international patronage such as the family of George III in Britain, Grand Duke Paul and Price Nikolay Yusupov in Russia, Queen Caroline of Naples and Emperor Joseph II of Austria among others. She died in Rome where her funeral was arranged by the Neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

This composition was executed c. 1780 by A. Kauffmann as an illustration of a poem written by Francis Davidson, c. 1620, and compiled by Thomas Percy in his anthology entitled Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1765). The painting forms a pair with 24-1886, which illustrates the second part of the poem while the present painting shows the beginning of the story. It is a fine example of neo-classical design inspired by poetic sources often contemporary even when they appear entirely classical in content.

Physical description

A shepherd watches a sleeping nymph while Cupid places an arrow in her quiver, her bow lying on the ground beside her.

Place of Origin

London (made)


ca. 1780 (made)


Kauffman, Angelica, born 1741 - died 1807 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on copper

Marks and inscriptions

'Angelica Kauffman'
Signed on the rock on the far right.


Height: 45.72 cm painting, Width: 52 cm painting

Object history note

Purchased, 1886

Historical significance: Angelica Kauffman’s pictures were particularly popular in England and were used in interior decorations such as murals and designs painted on furniture, mostly in cooperation with the architect Robert Adam. Her designs were often distributed as prints and this particular composition was engraved by G.S. and J.G. Facius (The British Museum, London - 1873,0809.291).
The subject was taken from the Reliques of Ancient poetry (1765), an anthology compiled by Thomas Percy. The painting illustrates the beginning of the poem: a nymph is asleep and a shepherd observes her while Cupid replaces one of her arrows with his own. The story continues in 24-1886: the nymph awakes and seizes her bow and bends it at the shepherd with one of Cupid’s arrow.
According to W. Wassyng Roworth (1992), the design decorated a fire screen in the Palace of Pavolovk, near St Petersburg. The screen is dated 1796 and was made in the workshop of Heinrich Gambs for Maria Feodorovna, daughter-in-law of Catherine the Great. The painted oval was possibly executed by the Grand Duchess herself.
Another oval composition (Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island, New York) of the exact same dimension shows the same nymph and shepherd in another situation. This suggests that the three paintings originally formed an ensemble. The Long Island painting was formerly in the collection of Sir Charles Rushout and bought by him from the collection of W. Dallas O. Grieg, Esq., in 1884. The date of acquisition of the present painting suggests that they share the same provenance.

Descriptive line

Oil on copper, 'Cupid's Pastime, A sleeping nymph watched by a shepherd', Angelica Kauffman, ca. 1780

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Summary Catalogue of British paintings, London, 1973, p. 71.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Both Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers employed the Swiss artist Angelica Kaufmann to paint subjects for ceilings. In 1781she married the decorative painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1796) who also often worked for Adam. [27/03/2003]


Oil paint; Copper


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Bow; Landscape; Quiver; Shepherd; Cupid; Nymph




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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