Welcome to Column House, home of Carol Burnell’s Divided Affections.
Maria Hadfield Cosway was a beautiful and talented English artist, who accompanied her husband, the miniature portrait painter, Richard Cosway, to Paris, in 1786, where she was introduced to Thomas Jefferson, then American Envoy to the Court of Versailles. The future President of the United States fell in love with the young Mrs. Cosway the day they met.
Their impossible love was immortalised in Jefferson’s 4,000-word letter, a Dialogue between the Head and the Heart, which marked the beginning of a lifelong correspondence, the record of a touching and unrequited affection. But Maria Cosway’s life is not only extraordinary because of her relationship with the American ambassador.
She was a celebrity artist, an exceptional musician, a Regency hostess who entertained the Prince of Wales, later an intimate of the Bonapartes, and finally a successful founder of schools. For her pioneering work in women’s education, this daughter of an innkeeper was given the title of Baroness by the Austrian Emperor Franz I.