George Romney was born the son of a cabinet maker in Dalton-in-Furness. He was apprenticed to a Cumberland artist called Steel, and in helping this painter in a so-called ‘runaway marriage’, caught a fever, and was nursed back to health by a girl whom he soon married, in 1756. They had a child, but the marriage was not a great success - Romney took his family neither to London, where he arrived in 1762, nor to Paris where he went in 1764. He thereafter settled in London, and made few trips to visit his youing family.
Romney’s first successful picture was a Death of General Wolfe (1762), awarded 25 pounds in a Royal Society of Arts competition - he would have gained second prize had not Reynolds quashed this. He gained a 50 guinea prize in another RSA competition in 1765, and about that time took up residence in Long Acre, London, where he established himself as a popular portrait painter, also producing historic compositions which were less well received. A trip to Italy in 1773 had a strong influence on him, although apparently throughout the trip he was obsessed with the thought of being mugged. In 1775, back in London, he took up residence in Cavendish Square, where his reputation as a painter of portraits rose to equal that of Reynolds. A favorite model of his was Emma Hart (Lady Hamilton). Romney did not send pictures to the Royal Academy, perhaps remembering that its President had once slighted his Death of General Wolfe. From 1790 he lived in Hampstead, retaining his Cavendish Square house until 1798 when he sold it to Shee (later PRA) and retired, finally going back north to live with his wife.
Sketches for history paintings by Romney may be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. His portraits are widespread - there are several at Kenwood and at the Wallace Collection, and his famous Emma Hart as a Bacchante is at the National Gallery.
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