Richard Cosway was once a more famous artist than Gainsborough. His portraits of the fashionable were the rage in Regency London. From 1785 he became First Painter to the Prince of Wales - the only artist ever to have been accorded such a title. He and his wife Maria entertained everybody who was anybody. Herself a talented artist in her own right, she was also a composer, musician and authority on girls' education. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with her; Napoleon doted on her. And yet, save for Richard Coswayis pre-eminence as a miniaturist, he and Maria have long been neglected by the public, their reputation tarnished by rumour and misrepresentation. Here, Gerald Barnett seeks to present them in a truer and clearer light, emphasising their achievements as artists and individuals and rehabilitating them as major figures in the artistic history of eighteenth-century England. Richard Cosway was the subject of major exhibitions at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Edinburgh) and the National Portrait Gallery (London) from August 1995. Richard and Maria Cosway feature prominently as characters in the Merchant-Ivory film Jefferson in Paris.
Gerald Barnett was born in Exeter and spent much of his life serving in the Royal Navy. Now retired, Commander Barnett has long been an enthusiastic collector of English portrait miniatures and drawings and has been a champion of the Cosways' reputation for much of the past 20 years.