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 George Romney  (1734 - 1802)

/ ROM-nee/
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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/England      Known for: Portrait and historical painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

George Romney (1734-1802)

Ranking behind only Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough as the top English portrait painter of his era, George Romney is an  ancestor of American businessman George W. Romney (1907-1995) and former Massachusetts governor and presidential nominee (2012) Mitt Romney.

He had craftsmanship of a high order (his pictures are nearly all in an admirable state of preservation), a real talent for drawing, a native simplicity of eye and mind that permitted him to concentrate on essentials, and a prodigious capacity for work.

George Romney was born on December 26, 1734 at Beckside, Lancashire, England.  He was at first apprenticed to a wood carver.  In 1762 he went off to London, deserting his wife and two children.  The following years he spent in Paris and Italy and he returned to London in 1775 to establish himself as a portraitist in competition with Reynolds and Gainsborough.  He was one of Lady Hamilton's favored artists and over a period of nine years he did various versions of her as "Joan of Arc", "Bacchante" and other romantic characters.

The National Gallery of Art notes the artist Romney was "introverted and neurotic," refusing to accept an invitation to join the Royal Academy.  While there has been much speculation about his actual relationship with the Academy, there is no doubt that he normally remained aloof maintaining that a good artist should succeed without being a member.

Romney cursed the "drudgery of portrait painting" and yet worked harder at his craft than even Gainsborough or Reynolds.  His diaries for the years 1776 to 1795 record about 9000 sittings, and his Saturdays and Sundays were seldom free of appointments.  His earnings averaged 1200 pounds a year during this period, not an untidy sum for any 18th century artist.  When his dissatisfaction with portraiture overwhelmed him, he turned for relaxation to his fine collection of antique casts and dreamed of painting "historical and ideal pictures." 

In 1782 Romney was introduced to Emma Hamilton (then called Emma Hart) who became his muse.  He painted over 60 portraits of her in various poses, sometimes playing the part of historical or mythological figures.  He also painted many other contemporaries, including fellow artist Mary Moser.

Romney's career falls into three periods: at Kendal from 1757 to 1762, in London from 1762 to 1773 and then, following a two-year visit to Italy, in London again from 1775 until his retirement in 1796.  The second London period  is well documented, thanks to the survival of  his diaries and framing books.  Most of Romney's patrons preferred to use his frame maker and were happy to have their portraits framed in standard 'Romney' patterns.

Throughout the separation from his family, he maintained contact and financially supported them, but they never lived with him in the capital.  In 1789 he returned to his wife and lived in retirement at Kendal until his death on November 15, 1802.

Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina)
Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (New York)
Art Institute of Chicago
Beaverbrook Art Gallery (New Brunswick)
Blanton Museum of Art (University of Texas at Austin)
Brigham Young University Museum of Art (Utah)
Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh)
Detroit Institute of Arts
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Robert Hull Fleming Museum (University of Vermont)
Frick Collection (New York City)
the Getty Museum (Los Angeles)
Harvard University Art Museums
 Honolulu Museum of Art
Huntington Library (California)
the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas)
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Texas)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.)
Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, California)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut)
National Gallery of Canada

Abbot Hall Art Gallery (Kendal)
Kendal Town Hall (Kendal)
Ashmolean Museum (University of Oxford)
Courtauld Institute of Art (London)
Dorset County Museum (Dorchester)
Dulwich Picture Gallery (London)
National Portrait Gallery, London
National Maritime Museum (London)
Tate Gallery (London)
Wallace Collection (London)
Falmouth Art Gallery
Fitzwilliam Museum (University of Cambridge)
Dalton Castle
Manchester City Art Gallery
National Museums and Galleries of Wales
National Museums Liverpool
New Art Gallery (Walsall)
National Galleries of Scotland
Crawford Municipal Art Gallery (Ireland)
Dunedin Public Art Gallery (New Zealand)
Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Louvre (Paris, France)
Musée des beaux-arts (Pau, France)
National Gallery of Victoria (Australia)
MASP (Brazil)

Sources include:
Masterpieces of Art, Catalogue of New York World's Fair 1940
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpieces in the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art: English Paintings in the Huntington Gallery
Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Note from Terry Lantry, who owns two prints by the artist and has researched George Romney:

Over 5,000 authentic drawings by Romney survive, scattered widely from London to Paris and Chicago to Cape Town but the Fitzwilliam Museum @ University of Cambridge, UK, starting with the Reverend John Romney gift in 1818 of a careful selection of his father's drawings, has acquired the largest share. As reported by Patricia Jaffee, who worked at the Museum.

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