With many thanks to Dr Stephen Lloyd, who has only seen images of this miniature.

This portrait miniature, which only emerged onto the London art market in 1997 and 2010, can now be convincingly identified as the only surviving documented portrait miniature by Richard Cosway of Mary Robinson, the famous actress and poet, who was the first serious lover of the Prince of Wales (for her most recent authoritative biography, see Paula Byrne, Perdita: the Life of Mary Robinson, London 2004). This portrait miniature of her, alongside another portrait drawing (since untraced), is listed in 1782 in the Cosway inventory of 1820, which includes a list of unpaid commissions, many of which were owed by George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV (see Lloyd, ‘The Cosway Inventory of 1820’):

‘For Mrs. Robinson’s min. [£]21.0.0

Mrs. Robinsons drawing [£] 8.0.0’

The relatively small size of this miniature is typical of Cosway’s early period miniatures painted between 1760...

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With many thanks to Dr Stephen Lloyd, who has only seen images of this miniature.

This portrait miniature, which only emerged onto the London art market in 1997 and 2010, can now be convincingly identified as the only surviving documented portrait miniature by Richard Cosway of Mary Robinson, the famous actress and poet, who was the first serious lover of the Prince of Wales (for her most recent authoritative biography, see Paula Byrne, Perdita: the Life of Mary Robinson, London 2004). This portrait miniature of her, alongside another portrait drawing (since untraced), is listed in 1782 in the Cosway inventory of 1820, which includes a list of unpaid commissions, many of which were owed by George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV (see Lloyd, ‘The Cosway Inventory of 1820’):

‘For Mrs. Robinson’s min. [£]21.0.0

Mrs. Robinsons drawing [£] 8.0.0’

The relatively small size of this miniature is typical of Cosway’s early period miniatures painted between 1760 and around 1783 when he doubled the size of the ivory support and increased by a third the price he charged for a large miniature to 30 guineas, reflecting his increased profile working for his leading patron the Prince of Wales (from 1780 to 1808). In the early 1780s Cosway’s technique for painting miniatures was in a transitional phase form the tighter and more controlled brushwork in watercolour on smaller pieces of ivory from his earlier period, moving rapidly towards his best known mature phase of work made between c.1783 and c.1795, when he created his lighter sky backgrounds and more feathery brushwork. For a comparative miniature by Cosway from the early 1780s, see that of a unknown lady wearing a blue jacket with gold buttons and a black-ribboned hat trimmed with feathers (Bonham’s, London, 23rdMarch 1994, lot 206; and Mrs. T. S. Eliot collection, Christie’s, London, 20thNovember 2013, lot 132).

In 1782 Mary ‘Perdita’ Robinson was at the height of her celebrity both as an actress and lover of the Prince of Wales. That year she was painted in famous portraits in oils by Gainsborough (a full-length in The Wallace Collection) and by Reynolds (a half-length at Waddesdon Manor). Cosway has echoed Reynolds’s portrayal by showing Mrs. Robinson wearing a large hat and turning to face the viewer from the right. Both portraits by Reynolds and Cosway from 1782 show her wearing her distinctive black silk ribbon around the neck. For another half-length profile portrait of Mrs. Robinson by Reynolds in oil in 1783-4 (Wallace Collection) and a lively drawing sketched ad vivumduring 1782 (NPG, London), as well as by other artists, see Richard Walker, National Portrait Gallery: Regency Portraits(London, 1985, I, pp. 417-18, and II, pls. 1005-1008).

Three other untraced portrait miniatures or drawings of Mrs. Robinson by Cosway were engraved in her lifetime:

Mrs. Robinson; half-length, in an oval; turned to the right, but looking to front; hair in curls and powdered; narrow silk ribbon at neck

Stipple by J. Pettit ‘from a sketch by R. Cosway Esqr. / Published by Wm. Holland. No. 50, Oxford Street, March 10. 1789’

as Laura Maria; half-length, in an oval with rectangular frame; turned slightly to the right, but looking to front; hair in curls and powdered; low cut dress with lace collar and bow; sash around waist; narrow silk ribbon and two strings of pearls around neck; ornamental surround to frame

Stipple by A. van Assen, 1790

cf. F.B. Daniell, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Engraved Works of Richard Cosway, R.A., London 1890, p. 31, no. 121

as Melania; half-length, turned to the left but facing to the front; flowing curly hair; mob cap; low cut dress, with a large ruff around the neck; miniature pinned to chest

Stipple by J. Condé, 1792

cf. F.B. Daniell, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Engraved Works of Richard Cosway, R.A., London 1890, p. 31, no. 121

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500 Years of British Art