Romney, George (1734-1802) by Scholes, Robert

George Romney (1734 – 1802) Romney was born and died in the Northwest, although he made his name in London. He was born on the outskirts of Dalton-in-Furness. From 1755 to 1757 he was apprenticed in Kendal to Christopher Steele, a roving provincial portraitist who had been trained by the noted French artist Carle van Loo. Romney’s early style, with its bright colour and precocious skill with drapery, reflects this background. He was also influenced by the Northwest’s leading artist, Arthur Devis. Devis specialised in small-scale, whole-length portraits in carefully observed indoor and outdoor settings and was one of the first masters of the conversation piece, a distinctively English brand of portraiture closely attuned to middle-class pursuits and sensibilities. At the height of his career he was more fashionable than Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough as a society portraitist, but all his life he wanted to paint elevated historical and literary subjects. He lacked the confidence to carry out many of his most ambitious projects, but in the last fifteen years of his working life, under the spell of his favourite model and muse Emma Hart, later the celebrated Lady Hamilton, he produced a sequence of Shakespearean and other fancy subjects which count among the most imaginative and poetic canvases of their time.

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