COSWAY, RICHARD (c. 1742-1821), English miniature painter, was baptized in 1742; his father was master of Blundell's school, Tiverton, where Cosway was educated, and his uncle mayor of that town. He it was who, in conjunction with the boy's godfather, persuaded the father to allow Richard to proceed to London before he was twelve years old, to take lessons in drawing, and undertook to support him there. On his arrival, the youthful artist won the first prize given by the newly founded Society of Arts, of the money value of five guineas. He went to Thomas Hudson for his earliest instruction, but remained with him only a few months, and then attended William Shipley's drawing class, where he remained until he began to work on his own account in 1760. He was one of the earliest members of the Royal Academy, Associate in 1770 and Royal Academician in 1771. His success in miniature painting is said to have been started by his clever portrait of Mrs Fitzherbert, which gave great satisfaction to the prince of Wales, and brought Cosway his earliest great patron. He speedily became one of the most popular artists of the day, and his residence at Schomberg House, Pall Mall, was a well-known aristocratic rendezvous. In 1791 he removed to Stratford Place, where he lived in a state of great magnificence till 1821, when after selling most of the treasures he had accumulated he went to reside in Edgware Road. He died on the 4th of July 1821, when driving in a carriage with his friend Miss Udney. He was buried in Marylebone New church.
He married in 1781 Maria Hadfield, who survived him many years, and died in Italy in January 1838, in a school for girls which she had founded, and which she had attached to an important religious order devoted to the cause of female education, known as the Dame Inglesi. She had been created a baroness of the Empire on account of her devotion to female education by the emperor Francis I. in 1834. Her college still exists, and in it are preserved many of the things which had belonged to her and her husband.
Cosway had one child who died young. She is the subject of one of his most celebrated engravings. He painted miniatures of very many members of the royal family, and of the leading persons who formed the court of the prince regent. Perhaps his most beautiful work is his miniature of Madame du Barry, painted in 1791, when that lady was residing in Bruton Street, Berkeley Square. This portrait, together with many other splendid works by Cosway, came into the collection of Mr J. Pierpont Morgan. There are many miniatures by this artist in the royal collection at Windsor Castle, at Belvoir Castle and in other important collections. His work is of great charm and of remarkable purity, and he is certainly the most brilliant miniature painter of the 18th century.
For a full account of the artist and his wife, see Richard Cosway, R.A., by G. C. Williamson (1905).
(G. C. W.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)