Richard Cosway R.A. (British, 1742-1821) A rare portrait miniature of the Muse Thalia, goddess of comedy and pastoral poetry, wearing white Classical robes fastened with pearls at her upper right thigh, gold armlet and pearl bracelet on her right arm, gold ankle bracelets, her brown hair loosely curled and upswept, she holds a pipe in her left hand and the mask of Comedy raised aloft in her right
Lot 48Y
Richard Cosway R.A.
(British, 1742-1821)
A rare portrait miniature of the Muse Thalia, goddess of comedy and pastoral poetry, wearing white Classical robes fastened with pearls at her upper right thigh, gold armlet and pearl bracelet on her right arm, gold ankle bracelets, her brown hair loosely curled and upswept, she holds a pipe in her left hand and the mask of Comedy raised aloft in her right
Sold for £5,625 (US$ 9,577) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Richard Cosway R.A. (British, 1742-1821)
A rare portrait miniature of the Muse Thalia, goddess of comedy and pastoral poetry, wearing white Classical robes fastened with pearls at her upper right thigh, gold armlet and pearl bracelet on her right arm, gold ankle bracelets, her brown hair loosely curled and upswept, she holds a pipe in her left hand and the mask of Comedy raised aloft in her right.
Gilt-metal frame, the reverse glazed.
Oval, 98mm (3 7/8in) high
Provenance: Sir Edward Henry Scott, 5th Baronet (1842-1883); his nephew, Sir Robert Claude Scott, 7th Baronet (1886-1961); Sotheby's, London, 27 November 1961, lot 17; Miss E. Clifford Smith; Christie's, London, 12 July 1988, lot 225.
Exhibited: D. Foskett, British Portrait Miniatures, The Arts Council of Great Britain (Scottish Committee), The Art Council Gallery, Edinburgh, 20 August - 18 September 1965, no.217, ill.pl.55, as 'The Muse Thalia'.

Footnotes

  • We are grateful to Dr Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection, Knowsley Hall, for his assistance in cataloguing this work.

    The present lot is Cosway's only recorded work on ivory to portray a full-length figure. The curved rectangular format of the ivory support, which is unique in Cosway's oeuvre, suggests it was cut to fit specifically onto or within the lid of a patch or snuff box. A daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who had lain together for nine consecutive nights, Thalia was the eighth-born of the nine inspirational Muses, considered to be the collective source of creativity. It is perhaps fair to imagine therefore that the sitter was a source of recreational inspiration for the beholder of the box in which the miniature was intended to be viewed.

    There was a great vogue in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for young girls to be represented in antique dress and Richard Cosway, like his great contemporary, Reynolds, portrayed several female sitters in the guise of allegorical 'muses' or goddesses. The artist's portrait on paper of 'Juno' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no.48.149.21) and a miniature on card, portraying a young lady wearing flowing robes and holding a bowl from which a phoenix drinks (sold at these salerooms on 25 November 2009, lot 169) are just two such examples of this thread in Cosway's body of work. Life began to imitate art towards the end of the eighteenth century, when fashionable women were increasingly portrayed entirely as themselves wearing the new, classically inspired gowns that had formerly been romanticized in the historical paintings of the day. The present lot, in which the sitter is clearly represented as the Muse Thalia, predates this evolution. The suggestive movement of her dress exposing her right arm and a large proportion of her back and legs also demonstrates how willing Cosway was to push the boundaries of eroticism in his portrayals of female sitters, particularly those of actresses and the mistresses of his male patrons. The public's taste for women in antique drapery enabled Cosway to test these margins with little restriction.

    The sitter portrayed in the present lot may merely be Cosway's vision of the 'Muse Thalia', however given Cosway's recorded works of a similar ilk, it is more likely that the portrait does indeed depict a specific lady. Cosway portrayed the actress, Frances Abington as the Muse Thalia in a three-quarter length ivory, circa 1783 (S. Lloyd, Richard & Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion, 1995, p.118, no.56, ill.pl 56). Whilst her head is tilted to the left and the mask of comedy is seen in her right hand, Abington's facial features are no match for those of the sitter in the present portrait. While it has not been possible to identify the sitter in the present portrait, it cannot be ignored that her facial features bear a very close resemblance to those of Lady Emma Hamilton, née Amy Lyon, later Emma Hart (1765- 1815). Her heart-shaped face, long narrow nose and dark, deep-set eyes are reflected, perhaps to the greatest extent, in a 1791 portrait of Emma, wearing a white dress and turban, by George Romney shortly before her marriage to the antiquarian and connoisseur, Sir William Hamilton KB, PC, FRS (1731–1803) (The Huntingdon Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, no. 26.109). A 'Study of Emma Hart as Circe' by the same artist, circa 1782-86 (Tate Britain, London) is also very comparable. In Romney's vast number of portraits of the society beauty, Emma is often depicted tilting her head to look directly or indirectly at the viewer and this movement is echoed in this full-length portrait on ivory.

    Cosway produced two known portraits on paper of Emma in Classical robes. The first, 'Emma Hart as the Goddess of Health', circa 1780–90 (National Maritime Museum, London) portrays her in profile, walking with an urn in her left hand and the skirt of her robes in her right; the second, portrays Emma when Lady Hamilton wearing Classical robes and standing in a stately pose besides a stone column with her right arm raised aloft (National Portrait Gallery, London, Acquisition no.NPG 2941). Despite obvious differences between these portraits and the present lot, it is not inconceivable that the present portrait is another depiction of the same.
Activities
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations

ALL BIDDERS MUST AGREE THAT THEY HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD BONHAMS' CONDITIONS OF SALE AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THEM, AND AGREE TO PAY THE BUYER'S PREMIUM AND ANY OTHER CHARGES MENTIONED IN THE NOTICE TO BIDDERS. THIS AFFECTS THE BIDDERS LEGAL RIGHTS.

If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £50,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £50,001 to £1,000,000 the Hammer Price
12% from £1,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, check with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveler's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Credit card charges: a surcharge of 2% is applicable when using Mastercard, Visa and overseas debit cards.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Lot symbols
Y CITES

Subject to CITES regulations when exporting items outside of the EU, see clause 13.

Contacts
  1. Jennifer Tonkin
    Specialist - Portrait Miniatures
    Bonhams
    Work
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3986
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3863
Similar items
Richard Cosway R.A., 'Caritas'; A Mother and her three children, one at her breast Richard Cosway R.A., 'The figure of Hope at the feet of Brittania' Richard Cosway, RA (British, 1742-1821) A Lady, wearing white dress with high frilled collar, her hair upswept and curled Richard Cosway, RA (British, 1742-1821) A young boy, wearing cyan-blue doublet slashed to reveal scarlet and gold, his white lace trimmed collar tied with tasselled laces, column background Richard Cosway (1742-1821), A portrait of Prince WIlliam Henry, inscribed: Rich. Cosway et F.S.A. Primarius Pictor Serenissimi William Principe fecit., pencil and red chalk, 9 X 5 1/4 Richard Cosway R.A., A Gentleman, wearing scarlet coat, white waistcoat and cravat, his powdered wig worn en queue