Home / News / Final Known Work of Maria Cosway Given to Nelson-Atkins

Final Known Work of Maria Cosway Given to Nelson-Atkins


Painting is Second Major European Gift from James and Virginia Moffett Collection

Kansas City, MO. March 12, 2024–A major painting by an esteemed 18th-century female artist was gifted to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Realized in 1801-1802, A Religious Allegory on the Death of a Young Woman is the last known work by celebrated painter Maria Cosway (English, born Italy, 1760-1838), and the second known work by the artist in a North American public collection. It is the gift of longtime museum supporters Virginia and James Moffett.

“This singularly important work is the last painting ever completed by Maria Cosway,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO ofMaria Cosway (English, b. Italy, 1759-1838), A Religious Allegory on the Death of a young Woman the Nelson-Atkins. “This, along with the Rachel Ruysch painting given by the Moffetts several years ago, has significantly enriched the diversity of our European collection, and we are most grateful to them. Thanks to their extraordinary generosity, we can provide visitors and scholars with a much deeper insight into the lives of two immensely significant women artists. Their inclusion in the collection enables us to explore their history more extensively and present a more comprehensive picture of European Art.”

The nocturnal scene portrays a young woman in white on her deathbed surrounded by three mourners and one angel at her head, who leans forward with her arms extended toward the light. Three additional figures appear at her feet representing Charity, Faith, and Hope. Influenced by neoclassicism, Cosway’s composition resonates with the works of her contemporaries Jacques-Louis David, John Flaxman, William Blake and Antonio Canova.

“This final painting illustrates the summation of Cosway’s artistic journey, religious fervor, and the profound loss of her only child,” said Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Senior Curator, European Arts.

“It is a major statement in Cosway’s career, embodying her intense Catholicism and personal grief,” added Stephen Lloyd, curator of the Derby Collection at Knowsley Hall, England, a specialist in Cosway’s work.

It is also the only known composition to have survived that Cosway realized in multiple media: painting, drawing, and etching.

Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664 - 1750) Still Life of Exotic Flowers on a Marble LedgeBorn in Italy in 1760, Maria Cosway exhibited artistic talents from an early age. Her multifaceted career included exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London and founding a renowned and pioneering girls school in Lodi, became the most important of its type in Lombardy, and for which she was made a Baroness of the Austrian Empire in 1834. This composition stands as her sole known painting executed in Paris.

This is the second major European gift to the Nelson-Atkins from the Moffett collection. Their painting Still Life of Exotic Flowers on a Marble Ledge by late seventeenth/early eighteenth-century Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664-1750) hung in the museum’s European galleries, on loan, for 20 years. Virginia and her husband James Moffett came to the museum every Sunday afternoon during those two decades to visit the painting and they were struck by the affection with which museum visitors admired the delicate work. They decided to make the loan a gift in 2017, and it became the first example by Ruysch to enter the collection. A mature work featuring many exotic flowers from India, Peru, South Africa, and North America, it remained in the artist’s immediate family for at least 10 years, leading scholars to speculate that the painting held special meaning for her.

The Cosway and Ruysch paintings greatly enrich the European collection and join significant works by fellow 18th-century women artists Elisabeth Louise-Vigée LeBrun, Maria Luigia Raggi, and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. The Moffetts have been similarly generous with gifts to the museum’s American collection.

Image captions:
Maria Cosway (English, b. Italy, 1760-1838), A Religious Allegory on the Death of a Young Woman, painted in Paris 1801-2, oil on panel 18 x 20 inches, (45.8 x 50.8 cm) Gift of James and Virginia Moffett, 2023.45
Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664 – 1750) Still Life of Exotic Flowers on a Marble Ledge, 1735. Oil on canvas, 35 1/4 x 27 3/4 inches (89.54 x 70.49 cm). Gift of James and Virginia Moffett. 2017.62

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The museum opens its doors free of charge to people of all backgrounds.

The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the museum is a key educational resource for the region.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.

For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art