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Richard Cosway RA (1742? - 1821)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Richard Cosway was born near Tiverton, Devon. Aged twelve, he was sent to London to train as an artist. He studied at the academy run by William Shipley, where fellow pupils included Ozias Humphry, who later also became a Royal Academician.

In 1760 Cosway embarked upon a career as an independent artist, swiftly establishing himself as a society portraitist. He produced miniatures and drawings ‘stained’ or ‘tinged’ with watercolour. In the 1760s, he exhibited regularly at the Society of Arts and the Free Society of Artists. These provided opportunities to showcase his ambitious oil portraits, rather than his fashionable miniatures and drawings.

The Royal Academy, founded in 1768, elected few miniaturists, a possible reason for why Cosway chose to exhibit his oil paintings. In 1769 Cosway was admitted as a student to the Academy schools (a prerequisite for later membership), leading to his election as one of the first Associates in 1770. He became a full Member in 1771, exhibiting in the annual exhibition until 1806. In Zoffany’s group portrait of the Academicians (1771-2), Cosway occupies a prominent position on the far right, painted full-length with an elegant and refined appearance.

In the 1780s Cosway married the artist and musician Maria Hadfield. They operated a fashionable salon from their Pall Mall residence, with the Gainsboroughs as their immediate neighbours. During this time, Cosway attracted the patronage of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) for whom he worked for the next 30 years, producing numerous paintings of the Prince and his close circle.

The most fashionable portrait miniaturist of the late eighteenth century, Cosway’s mature style epitomised early Regency taste. Cosway was prolific, creating up to twelve portraits in a single day. He also collaborated with engravers to reproduce his work for a wider public.

Cosway was also renowned as a connoisseur, virtuoso and collector. He assembled an outstanding art collection including works by Rubens alongside valuable armour, furniture and decorative objects. Following his death in 1821, this much-admired collection was sold at auction, where Sir John Soane bought over 30 objects for his own collection.


Royal Academician

Born: 1742? in Devon

Died: 4 July 1821

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 9 August 1769

Elected ARA: 27 August 1770

Elected RA: 15 March 1771

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting and Miniature painting

Works by Richard Cosway in the RA Collection

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Works after Richard Cosway in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Richard Cosway in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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