Art: Alexander the Obscure

"Genius," Alexander Cozens once wrote, "conceives strongly, invents with originality, and executes readily." Few of his contemporaries and fewer since his day thought of applying that pithy observation to Cozens himself. But recently the obscure, 18th Century Briton has been coming into his own. Last week his paintings were the standouts of an exhibition of romantic English watercolors at New Haven's Yale University Art Gallery.

Born in Russia in 1717, Cozens was either the son of a British shipbuilder at the court of Peter the Great, or the natural son of Czar Peter himself¬óCozens' family genealogists differ. He made his reputation in...

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