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Saturday, 10 August 2019

Painting of the Month (89) August 2019: Maria Cosway

Maria Cosway, Self-portrait 1787
Maria Cosway 1760-1838, was married to the more famous Richard Cosway who was a noted miniaturist. He was twenty years older than her and a serial philanderer who was reputed to resemble a monkey! You can she from this self-portrait and other pictures of her that she was a beauty. The pair were a great social success and leading portraitists of their era which led to jealousy from some of their contemporaries. She was also a highly talented musician and their home in Pall Mall was a meeting place for members of high society. She is reputed to have had an affair with Thomas Jefferson while they were in Paris.
This is an unusual painting for several reasons: she sits facing the viewer in a three-quarter pose with her arms folded in an assertive, almost defiant, manner; rare for a female sitter. I wonder if this was some kind of protest and maybe she was discontented with her life. She is wearing elegant, fashionable clothing with a turban and wears a cross on a black ribbon around her neck - referencing her strong Catholic faith. However, she makes no allusion to herself as a painter although she was well-established by this time.
 An Angel and Putti accompanying a child's soul to Heaven
Jesus raising a woman from the dead, (but no male figure to be seen!)

Portrait of Maria by Richard Cosway.
I'm listening to Jackson Brown's Linda Paloma. You can hear it here.


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

She looks like a strong, confident woman who is challenging others who might disapprove. I like her!

I always liked the music of Jackson Brown.

bazza said...

Arleen: I'm sure you#'re right about the kind of woman she was. And she was active in a male-dominated era.
I've seen Jackson Browne in concert a few times over the years; always good value!

Parnassus said...

It is interesting to compare the two Maria Cosway portraits. In the self-portrait, she meets the viewer's gaze with a look a pure intelligence, despite all the curls and frippery. In Richard Cosway's version, Maria is reduced to simpering and being decorative. Still, one has to admire the balance and composition in Richard's version. While revealing the inner psychology shows the depth of an artist, I can see why Richard might be considered the better artist/technician between the two.

bazza said...

Jim: That's all true but there would have more praise given to a male artist than to a female. Gender politics is an issue here. You are quite right to point out the differences in the two depictions.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - an interesting woman ... while both of them were obviously very good portraitists. Fascinating life she had ... she is a striking lady, with a capacity to utilise her abilities to enhance others' lives ... I'd never heard of them ... so pleased to see Maria - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: They are not high profile these days but interesting nonetheless!

Hels said...


The little I know about Maria all involved tragedies,. her siblings were slaughtered by a demented nurse; her husband acted like an appalling sod; her beloved only-child died young, and even her dream to become a nun failed. Perhaps the confidence in Maria's self portrait was a statement that she wouldn't be destroyed, whatever the circumstances.

bazza said...

Hels: She must have been pretty tough to have soldiered on with those kind of things going on in her life. She came to England in her teens not knowing English so she was clearly a fighter!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

We might all be a bit delusional when it comes to capturing who we think we are on canvas, but I suspect that her self-portrait is a better portrayal of the kind of woman she was than the one painted by her husband. She looks like a strong, intelligent woman, and if she was a little unhappy with her life, it's no wonder. Her husband was a philanderer. I wad going to say I hope she had a honey on the side, too, but if she was religious enough to consider becoming a nun, that isn't too likely.

bazza said...

Susan: I'm not too knowledgeable about the sexual habits of nuns but I suspect that you are correct!