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Emma Hamilton

Emma Hamilton, by George Romney, circa 1785 -NPG 4448 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Emma Hamilton

by George Romney
circa 1785
24 1/2 in. x 20 1/2 in. (623 mm x 521 mm) overall
NPG 4448

This portraitback to top

For Romney, Emma Hamilton was ‘the divine lady. I cannot give her any other epithet, for I think her superior to all womankind’. [1] She first sat to him as Mrs Hart in April 1782, probably for the picture engraved in 1784 as Nature, now in the Frick Collection, New York; by March 1786 over one hundred sittings are listed, even though Romney’s diary for 1785 is missing. [2] In March 1786 she left London for Naples, but when she briefly returned with Sir William Hamilton in 1791 she sat to Romney a further thirty-four times between 2 June and 6 September, the day of her marriage (when Romney’s diary records two appointments: ‘Mrs Hart 9’ - ‘Lady Hamilton 11’). There were no further sittings, and on 20 December 1791 Emma wrote to Romney from Naples: ‘You was the first dear friend I open’d my heart to, you ought to know me, for you have seen and discoursed with me in my poorer days, you have known me in my poverty and prosperity’. [3]
Romney’s pictures of Emma almost invariably show her playing parts, or modelling têtes d’expression. ‘Her features’, Hayley once observed, ‘like the language of Shakespeare, could exhibit all the feelings of nature, and all the gradations of every passion, with a most fascinating truth, and felicity of expression’. [4] Reynolds, Lawrence, Gavin Hamilton, Angelica Kauffmann and Vigée Le Brun, for example, each painted her as Muse or Bacchante, rather than herself, and Emma’s private appearance remains an enigma; [5] only the modest pastel by Johann Schmidt of 1800 seems to convey a still likeness.
NPG 4448, a spirited sketch, probably dates from 1785; the cast of the head recurs, for example, reversed in Romney's celebrated Emma in a Straw Hat of c.1784-85 at Kenwood. A bust-length oval version of NPG 4448 called ‘Daphne’ was formerly in the Tennant collection ('Portraits of Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton', H. Ward & W. Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, 1904, II, 39b), and a three-quarter length studio elaboration was sold Sotheby’s, 10 November 1993, lot 50. A double portrait, in which the head from NPG 4448 appears on the left and that of Emma as a Nun on the right, was sold Christie’s, 3 July 1964, lot 88. There are derivative oval engravings of 1803 by J. Condé (the head wreathed in vine leaves) and James Hopwood.

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter of 19 June 1791, quoted in W. Hayley, A Life of George Romney, 1809, p 158.
2) D. A. Cross, A Striking Likeness, The Life of George Romney, 2000, p 228n151, quoting Watson 1974; cf. H. Ward & W. Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Rainsonné of his Works, 1904, II, p 179.
3) Quoted by P. Jaffé, Lady Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Kenwood, 1972, p 10.
4) W. Hayley, A Life of George Romney, 1809, p 119.
5) Cf Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (the remise door): ‘thou cheatest us seven times a day with thy pictures and images, yet with so many charms dost thou do it, and thou deckest out thy pictures in the shapes of so many angels of light, ‘tis a shame to break with thee’.

Referenceback to top

Borenius 1921
T. Borenius, Northwick Catalogue, 1921, no.366.

Northwick Catalogue, 1864, no.141.

Ward & Roberts 1904
‘Portraits of Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton’, H. Ward & W. Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Rasinonné of his Works, 1904, II, 39a.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, reddish-brown hair, vermilion lips, wearing a white scarf and dress which are rapidly brushed in.

Provenanceback to top

Rev John Romney sale, Christie’s, 10 May 1834, lot 93, bought Norton for 2nd Baron Northwick; by descent at Northwick Park to Capt. E. G. Spencer Churchill; purchased from the Spencer Churchill Estate in a private treaty sale with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund 1965.

Exhibitionsback to top

British Institution 1854 (143); Hamilton 1972 (16); Regency Portraits, Kenwood, 1986; Romantic Icons, Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere, 1999 (26).

Reproductionsback to top

J. Skelton 1849 (the costume more finished).


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for Emma (née Lyon), Lady Hamilton

View all known portraits for George Romney

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