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Richard Cosway

Cosway was born in 1742 in Devon, the son of the headmaster of Blundell’s School in Tiverton, a man of Flemish descent. Sent to London before the age of 12, Cosway, like Crosse, studied at William Shipley’s drawing school. During the 1760s, he exhibited his work at the Society of Artists. By 1771, he had been made a Royal Academician. In 1785, he was appointed ‘Principal Painter to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.’

Although Cosway painted larger works in oils, it is for his miniature portraits and drawings that he is most remembered. His style divided opinion from the start. In 1802 a contemporary miniature painter, Andrew Robertston wrote, ‘they are pretty things, but not pictures. No nature, colouring or force. They are too much like each other to be like the originals…’ Such concerns did not put off Cosway’s many, and often titled, clients. Perhaps it was because his style tended to flatter nature!

As a man, Cosway appears to have been mocked and respected in equal measure: mocked for his looks (his face is often described as monkey-like), extravagant lifestyle and dress, and respected for his artistic talent and as a collector of Old Master paintings and other works of art.

Three aspects of Cosway’s life interested the author: first, Cosway’s employment of John Stuart as a servant during the 1780's; secondly, Cosway’s engagement in 1780 to Maria Hadfield, twenty years old, half-Italian and a talented musician; thirdly, a visit to Paris in 1788, during which Cosway presented to King XVI four cartoons thought to be by Raphael. In return, the King gave Cosway four magnificent tapestries from the Gobelin factory.

Certain fictional events in Henrietta Street are inspired by the above. Timelines have been adapted to suit the novel’s structure; details and characterisation are purely imaginary.


cover of Henrietta Street showing a Georgian terrace in London


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