Richard Cosway (Tiverton, Devon, England, 5th November 1742 - London, England, 4th July 1821)
|Self Portrait by Richard Cosway, 1770|
It is certainly true that every painting tells a story and in the case of my subject today, the tale is a surprisingly ribald one. I am pleased to present for your enjoyment Richard Cosway's conversation piece, Charles Townley with a Group of Connoisseurs, painted between 1771-1775. Certainly, one or two of the chaps in the painting might be seen to be enjoying themselves rather too comprehensively!
The painting is, ostensibly, a depiction of the conoisseur and collector, Charles Townley, and a group of friends (identified by Dr Viccy Coltman as as Richard Oliver, Dr Verdun, Chase Price (sitting), Richard Holt and Captain Wynn) admiring some of the marbles held in Townley's extensive collection. At first glance there is nothing to set this apart from other conversation pieces and yet, if we look closer, Cosway is playing a rather saucy trick on both subject and viewer.
Whilst Townley looks away fro, the marble goddesses who are presented naked before the group, his companions look on admiringly, every gaze focused on the rather well-realised buttocks of the statue to the left. Indeed, in Price's case, he uses his glass to get an even better look at the shapely form before him. The atmosphere is apparently rarefied, one of men of breeding and expertise admiring a work and yet, it would appear, Oliver and Price are particularly enthusiastic, their hands rather pointedly tucked into their breeches for goodness knows what purpose, whilst one can only imagine what Holt and Wynn's apparent horseplay might lead to!
It is a subtle yet pointed depiction of very genteel, very Georgian misbehaviour; not quite blink and you'll miss it but rather, don't let the respectability of these gentlemen fool you - their academic appreciation is not quite so dry as it might first appear!