In the 18th century, in Madrid, academic art was dominated by a genre known as history painting. In fact much of the European art world was obsessed with the grand retelling of historical events, typically 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 typically excluded from the life-drawing classes that were in many ways a prerequisite to painting scenes that often feature dozens of human figures.
Enter 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-repsected 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 one that Brockmann immediately made the most of, setting her sights on the prestigious genre of history painting.
Brockman was only 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 would become well known for her complex compositions and exacting detail. She would receive honors from the Exposiciones Nacionales again, and exhibit in three national exhibitions in Madrid, before fading from prominence as history painting was overshadowed by the rise of new movements and the rejection of the formal constraints of academic painting.
Reed Enger, "Elena Brockmann, Grabbing history painting by the horns," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 13, 2018; last modified November 05, 2018, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/elena-brockmann/.