Ulrica Frederica Pasch was a portrait painter and the first female member of Konstakademin (the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts). As a member of the well-known Pasch artist family with consistent employment on the burgeoning portrait market in both Sweden and Finland, she was a well-established member of the art world of the eighteenth century.
Ulrica Frederica Pasch was born in 1735 in Stockholm. Her artistic talent became apparent at an early age. She and her brother Lorens Pasch the younger were initially taught by their father Lorentz Pasch the elder. The Pasch siblings learned all the requirements of their trade, such as mixing paints, stretching and priming the canvas and they also practised copying artwork. While her brother travelled abroad to continue his artistic training under various teachers in Copenhagen and in Paris, the limitations of what was allowed for women at the time meant that Ulrica Frederica Pasch remained in Stockholm. After her mother died Ulrica was forced to move in order to look after her maternal uncle’s, the goldsmith Gustaf Stafhell, household. She was able to continue painting, including copying earlier royal portraits in miniature, which were combined into so-called strings of royals, to normal-sized portrait commissions using living models. During her brother’s 15 years abroad she established her own studio in Gamla stan allowing her to provide for herself and her father who was “destitute” after he had fallen ill and been surpassed by new and modern painting styles. After Lorens Pasch had returned to Stockholm in 1766 the three Pasch siblings moved in together and shared a residence for the rest of their lives. Ulrica and Lorens generated the necessary income whilst their younger sister, Hedvig Lovisa, ran the house.
Before she became appointed a member of Konstakademien in 1773, Ulrica Frederica Pasch’s particular status as a commoner and an unmarried financially independent woman was highlighted. Male painters, however, became members without reference to either their civil or social status. “M:lle Pasch”, as she was referred to in the academy minutes, does not appear to have attended meetings at the academy. However, she fulfilled the recommendation to supply a so-called “reception piece” of her own artwork, just like her male colleagues, as a sign of her new standing. She was also one of the pioneers who participated in the earliest exhibitions held by the institution, on the cusp of the breakthrough of modern public access to art. Her reception piece for the academy was a self-portrait.
Ulrica Frederica Pasch was a highly sought after portrait painter. The majority of her commissions came from the nobility but some also came from the bourgeoisie, and even from the peasantry. Her portraits – typically of smiling faces – were not only of women but frequently also of successful men who belonged to the Gustavian cultural elite: from naturalists to ship’s captains, governors and priests.
The commissions were negotiated directly between the artist and her clients, without the involvement of a middleman. The results depended on whether the individual being painted could afford to pay for enough sittings to give the artist the time to complete her work. It was not unusual for entire families to be painted, as shown by the portrait series of the Finnish brothers and officers, Gustaf Adolf Taube and Johan Reinhold Taube, the former’s fiancée Fredrika Giös, who is portrayed in a festive masquerade costume, and Ulrika Ehrenhoff, who is painted tenderly holding her fiancé’s funeral urn. He had died before they had been able to get married.
The lucrative portrait market did not only generate original paintings. Sometimes copies or even sequels – that is, similar images painted by the artist that were not identical to the original – were required. The latter was for example the case when the Trolle-Wachtmeister family wanted to brighten up some of their family properties with new portraits in the 1780s. Count Carl Axel Trolle-Wachtmeister, who played a central role in Swedish domestic politics and governance, and his wife Ulrica Sparre both ordered two portraits each from Ulrica Frederica Pasch.
Ulrica Frederica Pasch was a painter and her main material was paint. The visual attraction of her portraits is often the voluptuousness of the details. The lovable child portraits hold a special place in her work. The children, usually members of the privileged elite, are initially painted as small elegant and urbane ladies and gentlemen. The boys often wear hats and even wigs. The girls’ chubby bodies are enclosed in revealing dresses with corsets to create wasp-like waists. Despite these outfits Ulrica Frederica Pasch was able to convey their vivacity and childish charm.
It is rewarding to compare Ulrica Frederica Pasch’s images of children with their art historical precedents such as those by William Hogarth and Jean-Siméon Chardin. She may have seen engravings of Chardin’s painting Le chateau de cartes from the 1730s, which portrays a young boy engrossed in building a house of cards. The same theme appears in Ulrica Frederica Pasch’s portrait of the future pastor and court chaplain Gabriel Thimothaeus Lütkeman in the 1770s, who was painted while playing with his cards. Although they share a common theme the images are far from identical. Chardin’s profile cuts the young Frenchman off from the rest of the world and emphasises an atmosphere of concentration and silence. Ulrica Frederica Pasch, however, conveys a feeling of shared experience. Thanks to the artist always allowing the model, whether a child or an adult, to gaze directly at the viewer, an instant connection is formed, the viewer is engaged and, here, is invited to experience the child’s enjoyment of the game he is playing.
Ulrica Frederica Pasch died in Stockholm aged 60 in the spring of 1796. In her obituary her biographer, Thure Wennberg, wrote: “Pasch was not just remarkable due to her talent, she was equally remarkable for her personal properties.” He summarised these properties in the following way: “Ulrica Frederica Pasch was of great mettle and her aptitude for art would have taken her far if not for the limitations of her sex.”