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George Romney

George Romney, by George Romney, 1784 -NPG 959 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Romney

by George Romney
49 1/2 in. x 39 in. (1257 mm x 991 mm)
NPG 959

This portraitback to top

This remarkable portrait was painted for the artist’s friend and subsequent biographer William Hayley. Hayley recalled that it was at his Sussex home, Eartham, in the autumn of 1784 that Romney ‘began at my request the striking resemblance of himself in oil, which may be regarded as the best of his portraits ... the frontispiece to this volume [the engraving by Caroline Watson 1809] with the year of his age, forty-nine [i.e. between December 1783 and November 1784]. It well expresses that pensive vivacity, and profusion of ideas, which a spectator might discover in his countenance, whenever he sat absorbed in studious meditation’. [1] Elsewhere he wrote that it showed Romney ‘as he appeared in the most active season of his existence’. [2] Twenty years later the artist’s son, John Romney, wrote that the portrait was begun in the autumn of 1782 and afterwards given to Hayley ‘who did not allow him to finish it, but hurried it off to Eartham without delay’; the portrait was 'extremely like, and full of character’ and showed his father at the age of forty eight [i.e. between December 1782 and November 1783]. [3] John Romney’s account was repeated by Chamberlain in 1910, [4] but neither Hayley nor John Romney was infallible. [5]
Kidson has suggested that, having been started at Eartham and very probably in the autumn of 1784, the portrait was taken back to London where Romney eventually brushed in the torso to satisfy an impatient Hayley; [6] it was not until 11 August 1787 that ‘The Picture of Mr Romney was sent to Willm Hayley Esq from the Whit[e] Heart Burrow’. [7]

Footnotesback to top

1) W. Hayley, A Life of George Romney, 1809, p 96.
2) Ibid., p 254.
3) Rev. John Romney, Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney ... also some particulars of the life of Peter Romney, his Brother, 1830, pp 192-93; he also addressed a lamentable sonnet ‘To my Father’s portrait, painted by himself’.
4) A. B. Chamberlain, George Romney, 1910, p 123; he considered John Romney usually more accurate than Hayley.
5) Or generous, e.g. ‘Mr Hayley’s friendship [with Romney] was grounded on selfishness, and the means, by which he maintained it was flattery ... whatever errors [the artist] may have committed, they were mainly owing to the counsel, or instigation of Mr Hayley’ (Rev. John Romney, Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney ... also some particulars of the life of Peter Romney, his Brother, 1830, p 139).
6) A. Kidson in George Romney, exhibition catalogue, Liverpool, NPG, San Marino, 2002, no.106.
7) The Romney ledger (NPG). On 29 August 1787 The World alleged that Romney was with Mr Hayley at Eartham, where ‘he is painting, what for some time and place will be the more value, a head of himself’ – perhaps a garbled reference to the delivery of NPG 959.

Referenceback to top

Chamberlain 1910
A. B. Chamberlain, George Romney, 1910, pp 121-23, 229, 244, 264, 331.

Ward & Roberts 1904
H. Ward & W. Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Rainsonné of his Works, II, p 134, no.1.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, greying hair, reddish-brown coat; there are the faintest parallel lines running across the canvas just above elbow level and the incomplete background may hint at a brooding sky.

Provenanceback to top

Given by the artist to William Hayley, by whom given c.1820 to the Rev John Romney; by descent to Miss Elizabeth Romney;1 Romney sale Christie’s, 24 May 1894, lot 186, bought Agnew for the NPG.

1 Elizabeth Romney, the last Romney occupant of Whitestock Hall, Ulverton; the house was completed in 1806 by John Romney (1758-1832), the painter’s only son, and descended through his son John (1817-75) and grandsons John (b. 1851) and Lawrence (b. 1857); after monetary difficulties, Whitestock then passed to the grandson’s two aunts, Mrs Brooks (d. 1889) and Miss Elizabeth Romney (d. 1893) who moved from Coniston, the latter bringing with her ‘a few good Romney pictures which she had bought from time to time’; the house was finally sold in 1901 (A. B. Chamberlain, George Romney, 1910, pp 223, 227-28).

Exhibitionsback to top

British Institution 1862 (193) lent Rev John Romney; Second special exhibition of National Portraits (William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington,1867 (528) lent Rev John Romney; Romney, Kenwood, 1961 (32); Lady Hamilton, Kenwood, 1972 (3); Romney, Leger, 1984 (1); Regency Portraits, Kenwood, 1986; Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, NPG exhibition, Fukushima, Nagoya, Kitkayushu Hiroshima, Tokyo, 1995-96 (16); George Romney, Liverpool, NPG, San Marino, Calif. 2002 (106).

Reproductionsback to top

W. Ridley 1803 (small bust-length oval; the drapery finished); C. Watson 1809 (head only); W. T. Fry 1817; T. Wright 1830.

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 George Romney


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