Two Extraordinary Women: The Lives and Art of Maria Cosway and Mary Darby Robinson examines the intersecting careers of two remarkable women who rose to prominence during the late eighteenth century. The artist, musician, and educator Maria Cosway, is now best known as the woman with whom Thomas Jefferson fell in love with while serving as American ambassador to France in 1786. The other, Mary Darby Robinson, was a celebrated English actress, former royal mistress, fashion icon, and one of the leading literary figures of her day. Both women were politically active Whig supporters and part of a proto-feminist movement that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century. Their ideas were stimulated by the same beliefs in freedom, equality, and democracy that informed the French and American revolutions.
In 1800, Cosway and Robinson collaborated on The Wintry Day, an illustrated poem that contrasted "the evils of poverty with the ostentatious enjoyment of opulence" in Regency England. The exhibition will show how the lives of these two talented women closely resembled the idealized scenes of opulence and luxury in The Wintry Day. However, by juxtaposing these scenes with ones of abject poverty, Cosway and Robinson created a harsh critique of their times, which was in tune with their support of revolutionary ideas on liberty and equality and their proto-feminist ideas on women's education and the equality of the sexes.
The Fralin Museum of Art's programming is generously supported by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
This exhibition was made possible by a generous gift from Francis Massey Dulaney. We also wish to thank our in-kind donors: WTJU 91.1 FM and Ivy Publications LLC's Charlottesville Welcome Book.