Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a young Gentleman, wearing blue coat, white waistcoat and white stock, his hair powdered, c.1790 

Richard Cosway RA (1742-1821)

Portrait miniature of a young Gentleman, wearing blue coat, white waistcoat and white stock, his hair powdered, c.1790, Richard Cosway
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 2 3/8in (60mm) high
 
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This exceptionally well-preserved portrait of a young man was painted during the early years of the 1790s. At this point in his career, Cosway, in early middle age, was one of the foremost society portraitist’s in London. His style, expressed so distinctly in this portrait, suited the spirited aristocrats – London’s ‘bright young things’ of the later Georgian era – who were the mainstay of his patronage. Although at present unidentified, this portrait of a young gentleman could easily represent a member of the circle of the Prince of Wales, whom Cosway had befriended in the early 1780s.

The present miniature was painted at the height of Cosway’s fame, when he lived for many years in Schomberg House in Pall Mall close to Carlton House, and not far from the court at St James’s. His relationship with the prince was, in many ways, the gateway to Cosway’s successful career as artist and ambitions as courtier. He was also the artist central to the prince’s relationship with Maria Fitzherbert, whom he had secretly (and illegally) married in 1785.

The dynamic positioning of the sitter’s head and sketchy sky background of this portrait are both typical devices employed by Cosway during the early 1790s. The averted eyes of the sitter, as though he has been caught unawares, is a portrait device more commonly used by oil painters of the period. The resultant success of this captivating and vibrant portrait also reflects Cosway’s wide range of influences through his own collecting and artistic connections.
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