Art historians have debated for many decades over the rumor that in 1784,
the artist Maria Cosway had an affair with Thomas Jefferson.
It is said that Maria's Husband Richard was bisexual
and did not care if his Maria would sleep
with other men. In Fawn Brodie's book titled "Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate
History" Fawn says this about Maria:
"Paris in the 1780's was licentious to a degree unheard of in America. Moreover,
in fashionable French circles Jefferson was the apple of every woman's eye,
especially the beautiful and talented Maria Cosway, whose foppish English
husband was uninterested in fulfilling her need for love.
Maria was, however, a devout Catholic, and unwilling to commit adultery, or
divorce, and even if her husband were to turn up deceased, Maria and Tom
couldn't marry because of Jefferson's vow. Their hormonal suffering is evident
in their letters, and pretty well portrayed in the movie "Jefferson in Paris,"
starring Nick Nolte."
Maria (Hadfield) Cosway was born in Florence, Italy in 1759. Maria's parents
owned three inns in Florence that were very popular with the English who would
be visitors taking
the Grand Tour. Maria's brother George Hadfield was a famous architect who is
best known for designing the Arlington House in Virginia.
As a young girl Maria showed great artistic skills and was very talented.
When Maria was nineteen, she was elected into the Academy of Fine Arts in
Florence. Maria studied under such art instructors as Violante Cerroti and Johan Zoffany. From 1773 to 1778, Maria copied paintings at the Uffizi gallery; Maria was also
elected to the Florentine Accademia del Disegno in 1778.
After the death of her father in December 1778, Maria moved to England after
her friend Angelica Kauffmann invited her. Maria was introduced into
society by Angelica. Maria met Richard Cosway at a society function, and in 1781
she and Richard got married, they would have one daughter.
Maria is said to have broken many hearts in her lifetime. One such heart
belonged to Thomas Jefferson, whom she met in 1786 in Paris. Maria inspired
Thomas Jefferson to write what has become known as the "head and heart" letter.
In the "head to heart" letter Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"Having performed the last sad office of
handing you into your carriage, at the pavilion de St. Denis, and seen the
wheels get actually into motion, I turned on my heel and walked, more dead than
alive, to the opposite door, where my own was awaiting me."
Maria's many affairs were well known, one of Maria's lesser known affairs was
with Pasquale Paoli, who was a Corsican general and patriot.
Maria had two artists who influenced her works; they were Angelica Kauffman
and Henry Fuseli. Maria would exhibit many of her works at the Royal Academy in
London between 1781 and 1801. She would exhibit a few portraits but mainly
displayed history paintings. Maria took her subjects from such literary sources
Two of Maria's most beautiful portraits are the full-length portrait of the
Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana, which was engraved by Valentine Green in 1783,
and the more striking self-portrait which showed Maria with her with arms
crossed; Green engraved the self-portrait in 1787.
During the 1780s Maria would host many high society musical events in London.
Maria had many trips to Paris between 1786 and 1787; this is where her supposed
love affair with Thomas Jefferson took place.
Maria traveled throughout Italy from 1790 to 1794. In 1795, she returned to
London to work on a series of works published by Rudolph Ackermann, which
included her etchings of her husband Richard drawings and her original designs
illustrating two moral tales for women, as well as many of her successful
illustrations made to go with a poem by Mary Robinson
Maria moved to Paris in 1801, where she would make copies and hand shaded
etchings of works by the Old Masters in the Louvre. Maria had 3 of these works
published in 1802. In 1803, Maria would open a school for girls with the
assistance of Archbishop Joseph Fesch. The school had to close in 1811.
Marie moved to Italy in 1812 after her husband Richard died. She sold many
paintings from his art collection to pay for the move. Italy is where she would
open another school for girls. Maria acquired a convent at Lodi, it was quite
successful. Maria was rewarded for her generosity in 1834, by the Emperor. He
made Maria a Baroness of the Austrian Empire and gave her a grant of arms.
Maria devoted most of her time to her school for girls. She is buried in the cemetery
at the neighboring church. The city erected a bust in Maria's memory, and
the school which she founded received a substantial endowment, and is still an
operating institution for the education of girls. The dining room of the school
has a replica of the monument in memory of Maria's husband Richard. The school library contains many of her husband's works together with books and
furniture which had belonged to Richard and Maria, and papers relating to events
that happened in their
Maria was a devout Catholic and, after the death of her daughter, Maria chose
to retire to a secluded life in the school for girls that she founded in
England. She continued to paint until she died in 1838, after a long
Thomas Jefferson had an etching made of Maria's self-portrait, it is truly
magnificent. You can view it at http://tinyurl.com/3sf5f
Image Source: http://www.monticello.org