George Romney

“He was made for the times, and the times were made for him.” 
– Henry Fuseli, A Dictionary of Painters from the Revival of the Art to the Present Period, 1805

George Romney was one of the most popular British society painters of the 18th century. After the deaths of his renowned contemporaries Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, he would become a leader in the field of portraiture.

Romney began his artistic career in 1755, when he was apprenticed to Christopher Steele, an itinerant portrait painter. Romney eventually set up his own portrait practice in Kendal in northern England, and was able to make enough money to go to London in 1762. There, he established himself as one of Britain’s best society painters, along with Reynolds and Gainsborough. In 1773, he went to Rome to study the Old Masters. He would also be exposed to the art of Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, and their combined influence had a profound impact on his work. When he returned to London two years later, he was beginning to reach the height of his popularity. 

Despite being celebrated for his portraits, Romney’s main ambition was to achieve fame in the domain of historical and allegorical painting. He found a muse in Emma Hart, later known as Lady Hamilton, and made several portraits and sketches of her as various Romantic figures (Study for Emma Hart as Alope, c. 1784-86). He was able to realize his dream in 1790, when he became involved with John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, and he produced numerous drawings based on Shakespearean subjects (Study for the Shipwreck in “The Tempest,” c. 1786–90). Yet, he remained best known and celebrated as a portraitist.