This portrait by Richard Cosway, painted when the artist was at the start of his career, shows a young woman dressed against the cold in fur-trimmed cape and muff. This is an unusual portrait in the artist’s oeuvre, as even at this early stage Cosway was painting his female patrons in more formal attire or diaphanous evening robes. The apparent youth of the sitter is not only evident in her face but also in her straight-cut fringe – a haircut typically sported by girls not yet of marriageable age. In a double portrait of the same date of a mother and child, for example, Cosway paints the young girl with a straight fringe while her mother wears her hair coiffed into the extravagant height required in fashionable society (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Rienzi Collection, bequest of Caroline A. Ross).

In the present work Cosway appears to draw on his extensive knowledge of old master painting, as well...

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This portrait by Richard Cosway, painted when the artist was at the start of his career, shows a young woman dressed against the cold in fur-trimmed cape and muff. This is an unusual portrait in the artist’s oeuvre, as even at this early stage Cosway was painting his female patrons in more formal attire or diaphanous evening robes. The apparent youth of the sitter is not only evident in her face but also in her straight-cut fringe – a haircut typically sported by girls not yet of marriageable age. In a double portrait of the same date of a mother and child, for example, Cosway paints the young girl with a straight fringe while her mother wears her hair coiffed into the extravagant height required in fashionable society (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Rienzi Collection, bequest of Caroline A. Ross).

In the present work Cosway appears to draw on his extensive knowledge of old master painting, as well as the works of the fashionable oil portraitists of the time. The girl’s clothing is reminiscent of Wenceslaus Hollar’s etching of an English Lady in Winter Costume (The Winter habit of an English Gentlewoman)of 1644 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ac.no. 23.65.35). Cosway was inspired and informed by his fine collection of old master drawings, paintings and prints. He was a virtuoso collector, a serious connoisseur, who eventually acted as advisor to his patrons. The renowned oil painter, Thomas Lawrence, was impressed by Cosway’s collection, which he saw in 1811, stating that; ‘the knowledge - the familiar acquaintance with , study; and often happy appropriation and even liberal imitation of the Old Masters, the fix'd landmark of Art, of this little Being which we have been accustom'd never to think of speak of but with contempt.’[1]

Cosway would also have been aware of the work of his contemporaries in oil. In 1760, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) Ann Franks Day (Lady Ann Fenhoulet), with a muff, similarly positioned with her fully facing the viewer (Carnegie Museum of Art). Closest of all is the portrait, also by Reynolds, of Miss Mary Pelham, dated 1757 (Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Michael L. Rosenberg, 2000.378) , in which the adult sitter wears almost identical clothing, including the blue rosettes on her black head scarf.

The present work shows Cosway’s maturing style, inspired by the work of successful oil portraitists, but also alluding to his sensitive appreciation of the past masters. The result is a effective fusion, which would lead him to become one of the greatest portraitists of the eighteenth century.

[1]Stephen Lloyd, 'Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance' National Portrait Gallery, London 21 October 2010-23 January 2011, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 24 February-5 June 2011, The British Art Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2010/11), p. 10

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500 Years of British Art