Oval pastel on paper; signed and dated 1775; held in black and gilt period frame;
entire 13 ¼ by 10 ¾ in; 33.5 x 27.5 cm
Provenance: Private Collection, England
With thanks to Christopher Bryant for his assistance in cataloguing this portrait
This portrait of John Cosnan depicts him in the staff uniform of Adjutant General to the Expedition to Portugal in 1762. This senior position in the British army was attained only after considerable service in some notable campaigns, particularly in North America. In 1755 the 45th Regiment of Foot, of which Cosnan was a newly appointed Captain, was deployed to Canada and saw its first actions in North America during the Seven Years War (1754–1763), fighting the French as part of General Wolfe’s force at the Capture of the Louisborg Fortress (1758) and the city of Quebec (1759). Wolfe’s despatch of 2nd September at Quebec reports Cosnan amongst other officers as being wounded. It seems likely this resulted in him later undertaking a position on the general staff as an acting Lt.-Colonel and Adjutant-General to Lord Loudoun on their arrival in Portugal in June 1762.
The Spanish invasion of Portugal, between May and November 1762, was the principal military campaign of the Spanish–Portuguese War, 1761–1763, which in turn was part of the larger Seven Years’ War. It initially involved the armies of Spain and Portugal, before the French and British intervened in the conflict on the side of their respective allies. Spain and Portugal had both remained neutral in the Seven Years’ War which had been officially declared in 1756. Under Ferdinand VI Spain had enjoyed good relations with the British, and so did not join with their traditional allies France against the British. This changed with the succession of a new monarch, Charles III whose government switched to a more pro-French policy and in late 1761 the two states went to war.
Cosnan married Bethia Palmer, widow of Herbert Palmer, the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Palmer, 4th Bt., sometime after 1760. In February 1763, she inherited “a considerable estate” from the Palmer family in both land and financial interests. He retired on half-pay in 1767 but having attained such a senior position in the army clearly sought a portrait of him in his uniform from that time. Staff officers on foreign postings such as Portugal (and America) wore an undress uniform; as a Captain of the 45th Regiment and acting Lt. Col. rather than of General’s rank, Cosnan’s uniform has silver embroidered paired buttons, with lace on a red coat with blue facings.
James Scouler probably studied in Edinburgh under William Delacour and moved to London before 1769 when he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy until 1787. Among the works shown, mostly were miniatures but by 1773 “chalk” portraits are listed. These are still emerging on to the art market, even after all these years, and many indicate, not surprisingly, an artist keen on representing detail. This portrait of Cosnan, notably depicts intricate work around the face and on the lace, buttons and epaulette; the overall colour and composition being both fresh and striking.