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Emma Hamilton

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Emma Hamilton

by George Romney
oil on canvas, circa 1785
29 in. x 23 1/2 in. (737 mm x 597 mm)
Purchased, 1870
Primary Collection
NPG 294

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • George Romney (1734-1802), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 162 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The daughter of a Cheshire blacksmith, Emma Hamilton became the mistress of Charles Greville, and later the wife of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, the celebrated connoisseur who was British Ambassador in Naples. There she met Nelson after his decisive victory at the Nile and became his mistress. Fêted by Romney and other artists for her beauty, she gained a European reputation for her stylish 'tableaux vivants' or 'Attitudes'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 45
  • Audio Guide
  • Colville, Quinton; Williams, Kate, Emma Hamilton : seduction & celebrity, 2016, p. 80
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 71
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 17
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 228
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 274
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 242
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 315
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 111 Read entry

    Emma, Lady Hamilton, is most famous as the artist George Romney’s ‘muse’ and as Lord Nelson’s lover. Born Emma Lyon, she became a celebrity as a result of her beguiling beauty and skill as a theatrical performer. From humble beginnings, she rose through society as the mistress to a string of older men, eventually becoming Lady Emma on marrying Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador to Naples. To please him she developed her notorious ‘attitudes’ – candlelit performances emulating antique sculptures. It was in Naples that she also became Lord Nelson’s lover after the Battle of the Nile (1798), when she and Hamilton cared for the wounded admiral. The affair was an international scandal, but enhanced Nelson’s reputation as a romantic hero. On his death, Nelson entrusted Emma’s care to the nation but his wish was ignored and she eventually died penniless in France.

    The English artist George Romney (1734–1802) painted Emma over twenty times. In December 1791 she confessed to him, ‘you [were] the first dear friend I open’d my heart to ... you have known me in my poverty and prosperity’.

Events of 1785back to top

Current affairs

George Prince of Wales secretly marries his mistress Maria Fitzherbert in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
Prime Minister William Pitt introduces a bill proposing parliamentary reform and the abolition of 'rotten boroughs' but is defeated.

Art and science

William Cowper publishes his best -known poem The Task.
James Boswell publishes The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, narrating his travels with the late writer Samuel Johnson.
Physician and naturalist James Hutton presents his studies of local rocks to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, launching the era of scientific geology.

International

Warren Hastings resigns as Governor-General of Bengal and returns to England. His trial begins on charges of corruption in the administration of India.
French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon crosses the Atlantic to sculpt a statue of George Washington.
British government establishes a permanent land force in the Eastern Caribbean, based in Barbados.

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