The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Maria Cosway
  • Richard Cosway (1742 - 1821)
  • Maria Cosway
  • England
  • c. 1785 - 1790
  • Miniature
  • Painted on ivory
  • Image size: 7.1 x 5.8 cm
    Frame size: 7.6 x 6.5 cm
    Height: 9.5 cm, with hook
  • Inscription: 'J (?) Teed / London / 1790'
    Label: 'She was twice a widow / before she was Twenty / five'
  • M87
  • Boudoir Cabinet
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Richard Cosway was by far the most famous and successful English miniature painter of the later eighteenth century. In 1781 he married Maria Hadfield (1760-1838), who had moved to London after growing up in an English expatriate family in Florence. She was an important painter in her own right, an accomplished musician and, together with her husband, the centre of a highly fashionable circle. Their marriage contributed to their carefully organized joint social and business success. The Cosways were celebrities of their day, famous both as artists and as social figures. Their stormy relationship and affairs added to the public interest in them.

    This portrait miniature is regarded as one of Cosway’s greatest masterpieces. An inscription at the back identifies the sitter as Mrs Fitzherbert (Maria Smythe), mistress and illegal wife of the Prince of Wales. However, documented portraits prove that this identification is untenable. The features of the woman are entirely different from Fitzherbert’s, whose eyes, in a miniature by Cosway that is genuinely of her, are brown. Stephen Lloyd suggested in 2005 that the sitter might be Cosway’s wife Maria, and comparisons with documented portraits of her strongly support the identification.

    The previous identification of the sitter as Mrs Fitzherbert might have made the miniature of particular interest to the Hertford family. She was like a second mother to the 4th Marquess after he had been called back to England by his father in 1816 to receive an English education.