Art: The Missing Minister

The letter was a somewhat indiscreet one for a young matron to write a middle-aged widower—especially when the widower was the eminent Thomas Jefferson, U.S. minister to the court of Louis XVI. Nonetheless, Maria Cosway, 29, wanted a portrait of Jefferson, and she was direct enough to write and ask for one. "It is," she added, "a person who hates you that requests this favor."

As scholars have long known, Maria Cosway was merely being coy: far from hating Jefferson, she was a great & good friend of the U.S. minister, and eventually her request was granted. Whatever happened to the painting...

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