Although portrait miniatures are not usually presented as miniaturised forms of oil paintings, this double portrait, painted when the artist was only in his twenties, certainly apes the composition and spirit of a large oil.

This ambitious portrait by Richard Cosway shows a brother and sister in a classical landscape. Although portrait miniatures are not usually presented as miniaturised forms of oil paintings, this double portrait, painted when the artist was only in his twenties, certainly apes the composition and spirit of a large oil.

There is, however, some confusion with the identity of the sitters. The engraved reverse of the gold frame states a relationship between Anne Wilson (née Townshend) and her brother George, but in fact Anne was the only child born to the Rt. Hon. Charles Townshend and Lady Caroline Campbell, Baroness Greenwich. Two of her half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage were Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (1746-1812) and Frances Scott (later Lady Douglas) (1750-1817). None of her other half-siblings survived to adulthood. If the portrait dates to the mid-1760s, the boy would be too young to represent any of Anne’s half siblings, especially as here the female sitter is...

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This ambitious portrait by Richard Cosway shows a brother and sister in a classical landscape. Although portrait miniatures are not usually presented as miniaturised forms of oil paintings, this double portrait, painted when the artist was only in his twenties, certainly apes the composition and spirit of a large oil.

There is, however, some confusion with the identity of the sitters. The engraved reverse of the gold frame states a relationship between Anne Wilson (née Townshend) and her brother George, but in fact Anne was the only child born to the Rt. Hon. Charles Townshend and Lady Caroline Campbell, Baroness Greenwich. Two of her half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage were Henry Scott, 3rdDuke of Buccleuch (1746-1812) and Frances Scott (later Lady Douglas) (1750-1817). None of her other half-siblings survived to adulthood. If the portrait dates to the mid-1760s, the boy would be too young to represent any of Anne’s half siblings, especially as here the female sitter is shown to be older than the boy and wearing the robes of a peeress. Anne Wilson’s uncle was called Field Marshall, George Townshend, 1stMarshall Townshend (1724-1807) – the same name as the boy in the double portrait here – which may have led to the confusion when the frame was engraved later.

The female sitter in this portrait may instead represent Anne, Viscountess Townshend (née Montgomery) (c.1752-1819), who married (as his second wife) 1st Marquess Townshend and who became a close friend of Cosway’s wife, Maria. If shown here with her half-brother, she may have been in her early teens, while her brother was still only aged around five years old. The depiction of the female sitter in the ermine-trimmed robes of a peeress also suggests a person of higher rank than Anne, who was the daughter of baronet. In 1787, Anne’s husband was created 1stMarquess Townshend and she gained the official title of ‘Mistress of the Robes’ to Caroline, Princess of Wales, the wife of Cosway’s great patron, George, Prince of Wales (later George IV).

If these children do represent Anne and her half-brother, this early double portrait by Cosway is representative of his ambition to paint sitters who were commissioning from the very best oil portraitists of the time. Cosway’s later patronage was drawn heavily from the fashionable and wealthy circle of friends surrounding the Prince of Wales. By the time this double portrait was painted, Cosway had established his independent practice (1760) and had begun to exhibit his portraits from 1762.

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500 Years of British Art