Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Self-Portrait

Artist:
Richard Cosway (British, Oakford, Devon 1742–1821 London)
Date:
ca. 1770–75
Medium:
Ivory
Dimensions:
Oval, 2 x 1 5/8 in. (50 x 42 mm)
Classification:
Miniatures
Credit Line:
Gift of Charlotte Guilford Muhlhofer, 1962
Accession Number:
62.49
Not on view
Cosway, who was born in Devonshire, was exceptionally precocious, winning first prize at the age of twelve in a competition held by the Society of Arts in 1755 (Stephen Lloyd, Richard and Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion, exh. cat., Edinburgh, 1995, p. 20). He had ambitions to be a portrait painter in oils, but was so successful with miniatures that he concentrated on that scale. Cosway became an academician in 1771 and miniature painter to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) about 1786. He was the most notable miniature painter in England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and had a remarkably large and fashionable following. Cosway, with his wife Maria, led a conspicuous and scandalous social life, entertaining at Schomberg House in Pall Mall where he was Thomas Gainsborough's neighbor. He died in London.

The miniature is established as a self-portrait by comparison with such works as the engravings after the artist's profile by I. Clarke and R. Scriven. Stephen Lloyd confirms the identification. The artist has presented himself, with his usual flamboyance, as a macaroni, one of the young men of extreme fashion who flourished in England from about 1760. The high-dressed wig indicates that the miniature was painted about 1770–75, when the artist was about thirty years old. The ormolu frame is similar to those supplied by H. J. Hatfield & Co. for Queen Victoria's miniatures at Windsor Castle.

[2016; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
Charlotte Guilford Muhlhofer (until 1962)
Edinburgh. Scottish National Portrait Gallery. "Richard & Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion," August 11–October 22, 1995, no. 18.

London. National Portrait Gallery. "Richard & Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion," November 17, 1995–February 18, 1996, no. 18.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 130.

Stephen Lloyd. Richard & Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion. Exh. cat., Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh, 1995, pp. 30, 101, 114, no. 18, colorpl. 17, dates it about 1770; calls it a "tour de force" of miniature painting, in which the artist depicts himself as a macaroni or dandy; notes that Cosway is imitating the style of his rival Jeremiah Meyer.

Graham Reynolds with the assistance of Katharine Baetjer. European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 11, 13, 131–32, no. 130, ill. on title page (color), colorpl. 130, and ill. p. 131, date it about 1770–75.

Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), p. 41, ill. (color).

John Ingamells. National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits, 1760–1790. London, 2004, p. 124, ill., dates it about 1770.

Stephen Lloyd in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Vol. 13, Oxford, 2004, p. 558.

Stephen Lloyd. Richard Cosway. London, 2005, p. 40, no. 4, ill. in color opp. p. 1 and p. 41.



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