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Richard Cosway’s black pencil and gum arabic on paper portrait, in period frame, of the Prince of Wales – €325,000 (£276,700) at Baron Ribeyre.

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It surfaced at the Drouot auction centre in Paris on December 16. Estimated at €12,000-15,000, it was hammered down at €325,000/£276,700 (plus 28% buyer’s premium) by local auction house Baron Ribeyre.

Maria Fitzherbert ‘pendant’

The 9 x 5½in (23 x 14cm) watercolour, black pencil and gum arabic drawing on paper is the work of leading Regency miniaturist Richard Cosway (1742-1821).

It is very similar in style and technique to a larger 12 x 9in (30 x 22cm) portrait of Fitzherbert sold for £65,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) at Christie’s Old Master sale on July 2, 2019. This ‘pendant’ picture, it later emerged, had been acquired for The Royal Collection Trust.

Cosway met the Prince of Wales in 1780 through Fitzherbert and eventually completed nearly 50 portraits as the heir to the throne’s ‘principal painter’. During the early years of the secret 1785 marriage between George and Maria (the union was not approved by the king), Cosway received numerous commissions from the couple.

These included four miniatures and two portrait drawings of George and two miniatures of Maria, as well as the famous ‘eyes only’ miniatures which set a fashion within the court and beyond. The prince also gave portraits of himself (typically painted by Cosway in a flamboyant and flattering manner) to his friends, relations and entourage.

Buried with a Cosway

George formally married Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 (whom he openly hated and refused to make queen). However, his relationship with the woman he described as ‘the wife of my heart and soul’ endured until his death. He was buried with a Cosway miniature of Maria around his neck.

The large-scale drawing at Drouot, painted in Cosway’s typical miniature style, is best known from an engraving published c.1787 by artist Louis Sailliar (1748-95). It appeared to be in a period frame carved with the Prince of Wales feathers and motto to the crest.

London dealer Philip Mould, one of the underbidders of the Paris portrait, said: “Richard Cosway has bucked the trend of many 18th and 19th century British artists and his stock has risen considerably in recent years. Added to this, the drawing was the perfect storm from a collector’s perspective: a lost work depicting the artist’s most important patron, a highly emotive provenance, in fine condition, and celebrated in the form of a print.

“It was also hard on the heels of a portrait of Maria Fitzherbert that The Royal Collection Trust bought which had achieved a head-turning price for a Cosway watercolour drawing of this type.”