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Richard Cosway, 1742–1821, British

Elizabeth, Countess of Hopetown

Additional Title(s):

Elizabeth, Countess of Hopetoun (1750-1793)

Watercolor and gouache on ivory
Image: 3 x 2 3/8 inches (7.6 x 6 cm) and Frame: 3 5/8 x 2 5/8 x 1/4 inches (9.2 x 6.7 x 0.6 cm)

Inscribed in artist's hand on paper backing n pen and brown ink: "Eliza | Countess of Hopetown | R.dus Cosway R.A. | Primarius Pictor | Serenissimi Walliae | Principus | Pinxit | 1789"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors-Miniatures
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
female | portrait
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Cosway used his signature method of sticking closely to the tone of the ivory support in this portrait of the Countess of Hopetoun (1750–93). He limited his palette to blue, gray, white, and black, with pink highlights on the cheeks and lips, and the colors were made as transparent as possible before application. They seem to float on the ivory background, which is visible in sections of the countess's gown that are untouched by watercolor or gouache. Although the face is rendered with delicate strokes of paint, Cosway freely applied his signature blue in the background.

Both the Countess and the Earl of Hopetoun (1741–1816) were acquainted with the Cosways at least three years before these portrait miniatures were painted. In 1786 their daughter Eliza recorded having seen an “excessively handsome” miniature of the Prince of Wales at the Cosways’ home and studio (“Troubled Life”, 2000, p. 7). What prompted the Hopes to sit for Cosway in 1789, particularly in the somewhat unusual format of a pair of pendant miniature portraits, is not known. By this date Eliza had died, after a long and painful illness, and it is likely that the black ribbon pinned to the countess's gown is a memorial to her daughter. In letters to her husband during Eliza’s last days, the countess lamented “those repeated bleedings” that had been advised by the doctors, imploring “May the Almighty forgive me for allowing her to be reduced in that manner” (“Troubled Life”, 2000, p. 8). Cosway executed one of his pencil and watercolor portraits of the countess with two of her other daughters (ca. 1790; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). One of the girls gestures to an angel in the sky, no doubt meant to represent either Eliza or her sister Jamima, who had died at age three.

Cassandra Albinson

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p.263, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 263, no. 46, pl. 46, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Stephen Lloyd, Richard & Maria Cosway: regency artists of taste and fashion, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, p. 61, cat. 68, NJ18 C7985 L56 1995 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA)

Troubled life of Elizabeth Carnegie (1750-1793), third Countess of Hopetoun, Hopetoun, 2000, p. 7, V 1117

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p.33, cat. no. 20, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA)

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