In the 18th century, in Madrid, academic art was dominated by history painting. In fact much of the European art world was obsessed with grand retellings of historical events, on gigantic canvasses with baroque lighting and dramatic composition. As a genre, history painting was dominated by male artists like Jaques Louis David and Eugène Delacroix. Beyond the era’s typical bias against educating and supporting women artists, women were usually excluded from the life-drawing classes that were a prerequisite to painting scenes that often feature dozens of human figures.
Meet Elena Brockmann, a woman both lucky and brave. Brockmann was born around 1865 into the wealthy Keats family. Her great uncle was the famous poet John Keats, and her uncle Juan Llanos Y Keats was a well-respected painter. Art lessons from her uncle Juan Llanos, led to apprenticeships in the studios of José Benlliure and Joaquín Sorolla. Access to training was a rare privilege, and Brockmann immediately made the most of it, setting her sights on the prestigious genre of history painting.
Brockman was 22 years old when she won her first award in the Exposiciones Nacionales de Bellas Artes, Spain’s premier art competition. Over the next ten years, Brockman became known for her complex compositions and exacting detail. She received honors from the Exposiciones Nacionales again and exhibited in three national exhibitions in Madrid before fading from prominence as history painting was overshadowed by the rise of new movements.
Reed Enger, "Elena Brockmann, Grabbing history painting by the horns," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 13, 2018; last modified October 27, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/elena-brockmann/.