This gentle sketch of a woman sewing while a child looks over her shoulder is both an observational drawing and a mindful nod to the old master drawings collected by the artist. As Stephen Lloyd has observed, Cosway self-consciously styled himself in the long tradition of ‘Artist-collector’, following in the footsteps of Rubens, Rembrandt and Lely.[1] He had also been taught in the classical tradition, copying collections of antique sculpture during his training as an artist.

As Cosway’s wealth grew, he became a major collector of Old Master drawings. From the 1790s, when this particular image was drawn, Cosway drew a series of historical compositions. These connect closely to old masters he was able to study in his own collections and some remain in sketchbooks now in the collection in the British Museum.[2]

The figures in this sketch are draped in Antique-style clothing, the female sitter with a bandeau in her hair, wearing classical style gown and with bare...

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This gentle sketch of a woman sewing while a child looks over her shoulder is both an observational drawing and a mindful nod to the old master drawings collected by the artist. As Stephen Lloyd has observed, Cosway self-consciously styled himself in the long tradition of ‘Artist-collector’, following in the footsteps of Rubens, Rembrandt and Lely.[1] He had also been taught in the classical tradition, copying collections of antique sculpture during his training as an artist.

As Cosway’s wealth grew, he became a major collector of Old Master drawings. From the 1790s, when this particular image was drawn, Cosway drew a series of historical compositions. These connect closely to old masters he was able to study in his own collections and some remain in sketchbooks now in the collection in the British Museum.[2]

The figures in this sketch are draped in Antique-style clothing, the female sitter with a bandeau in her hair, wearing classical style gown and with bare feet. The subject of women sewing was one which had been observed by artists over centuries, particularly in the Dutch Old Master genre. The subject matter has a private observational quality – a woman unaware of the artist as she is absorbed in her own work. It is also a tender theme – one expressive of kindness (often to others) – and, as here, confined to a domestic sphere. Although the female figure is self-occupied, she is also observed by her child who is perhaps expected to learn from their mother’s selfless and meticulous accomplishment.

[1] S. Lloyd, 'Richard and Maria Cosway', exh. SNPG and NPG, 1995, especially nos. 105-111

[2] See Cosway’s sketchbook in the British Museum (1941,0208.191 to 307)

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500 Years of British Art