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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

George Romney

George Romney Self-portrait, 1784 
Every so often, as I thumb through the pages of art history, a name pops out at me. The name Romney did that today (for obvious reasons). I'm even old enough to remember when a George Romney briefly ran for president in 1968 before revealing to the press his so-called Vietnam "brainwashing." So far as I know there are no members of the Romney family today who are artists. However, during the late 1700s in the more erudite salons of London, the name would definitely have "rung a bell." George Romney was one of the more fashionable portrait painters of the time. He was not the best portrait painter of his day. The preeminent Sir Joshua Reynolds would desperately cling to that spot. And historically speaking, inasmuch as a portrait painter is often best known (and judged) literally by the faces of those he painted, George Romney's main claim to fame is having painted the beautiful Lady Hamilton, mistress of England's Heroic Lord Horatio Nelson, of Trafalgar fame. Thus, he could hardly be considered historically significant.
Lady Hamilton as Circe, 1782,
George Romney
The most one could say about George Romney was that he was a "good" portrait painter, perhaps even one of the "better" portrait artists of his day. The self-portrait (above, left) exhibits a confident air, appearing to be unfinished, which may or may not be the case. There is a fresh, "work in progress" quality to it that I find appealing, though such deliberate elements were not common during that period. George Romney died in 1802, so in being unfinished, either he deliberately chose not to finished the piece or he was burdened with a rather lengthy streak of procrastination.
Portrait of a Boy, George Romney.
Even in painting a boy, there is the
same, sweet, feminine look (tiny
mouth, large eyes) as seen in his
Lady Hamilton portraits.
Romney's painting of Lady Emma Hamilton as Circe (right, 1782) is fairly typical of Romney's female portrait, perhaps even a bit better than most. She is depicted as quite beautiful, even glamorous, what we might have called at one time a "Romney Girl." (Vivien Leigh played her in the 1941 British film, Lady Hamilton. It was excellent casting.) George painted her over sixty times, which might lead one to suggest she did little else but pose for Mr. Romney. Quite possibly she did a great deal more for him, but that's simply likely conjecture on my part. At any rate, by 1799, in failing health, the man returned to his wife (whom he'd not lived with for forty years), who nursed him until his death.
And in case you're wondering, the English George Romney's first cousin, Miles Romney, an architect and early convert to Mormonism (the Nauvoo, Illinois, era) came to the U.S. in 1837. He was responsible for the illustrious American branch of the family tree. He died in Utah in 1877.

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