1 of 30 portraits of Emma Hamilton
- Extended Catalogue Entry
by George Romney
oil on canvas, circa 1785
29 in. x 23 1/2 in. (737 mm x 597 mm)
Sitterback to top
- Emma (née Lyon), Lady Hamilton (Baptised 1765-1815), Mistress of Lord Nelson. Sitter in 30 portraits.
Artistback to top
- George Romney (1734-1802), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 162 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.
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 affairsGeorge 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 scienceWilliam 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.
InternationalWarren 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.
Watch our playlist exploring scientific techniques used by the Gallery to unlock the secrets behind our Tudor portraits.
Subjects and themes
Search the collection by themes - from pets to weddings!
Black History Month
Take a tour exploring our Collection created by Alayo Akinkugbe for Black History Month in 2020.
A Picture of Health
Learn about pioneers in medicine, health and social reform from 1840 to 1920.
- Emma Hamilton
- Only Connect - Emma Hamilton <> William Hamilton
- Only Connect - Emma Hamilton <> Richard Cosway
- Only Connect - William Hamilton <> Emma Hamilton
- Only Connect - William Hamilton <> Joseph Haydn
- Only Connect - William Hamilton <> Horatio Nelson
- Only Connect - Emma Hamilton <> Horatio Nelson
- Only Connect - Emma Hamilton <> Joseph Haydn
- Only Connect
- Only Connect - installation video
- Late Eighteenth Century Prints and Drawings
- George Romney
- 2019 Anniversaries
- Brilliant Women
- Artist - Romney
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.