|Self Portrait painted in 1784 when Romney was fifty.|
He was one of eleven children, his father was a man of many occupations farmer, builder, cabinet-maker, and dealer and not very prosperous in any of them. By the time Romney was eleven years old he was helping his father in the workshop, during this time he drew portraits of the other workmen and people. He also became a skilled woodworker and was able to make violins (which he played throughout his life). When he was twenty he made the acquaintance of a vagabond artist named Christopher Steele, who journeyed from place to place producing portraits, I wonder if there is still an opening for that sort of Itinerant!
In 1755 Romney became his pupil and was taken with him on his travels. In the following year Romney fell ill with a fever and was nursed by his landlady's daughter, a domestic servant named Mary Abbott, and being a romantic youth Romney married this girl in the first burst of his gratitude. Steele meanwhile had settled at York, and summoned Romney to join him there as soon as he was well enough, and since he was not earning enough to keep a wife, Mrs. Romney had to go back to service when her husband rejoined the man he was apprenticed to.
There was little that Steele, a mediocre artist and a loose liver, could teach Romney, and their association was more profitable to Steel than to him. After a year or two in bondage at York, Romney managed to purchase his freedom, and he then made a home for his wife at Kendal. With this town as his headquarters, he rambled about the Lake Country painting heads at two guineas each and small full-lengths at six guineas, till in 1762 he had at last managed to save a hundred pounds.
Romney was now twenty-eight, and he felt that if ever he was to make his fortune by his art he must seek it in London. So giving £70 to his wife, with the remaining £30 he came to the capital, where he at once competed for a prize offered by the Society of Arts for an historical picture on " The Death of Wolfe."
|Study for The Death of General Wolfe 1763|
But Romney was never a mere money-grubber, and when at the age of forty-eight he first met his most famous sitter, the dazzlingly beautiful Emma Lyon, who changed her name to Emma Hart. She is of cause better known to history as Lady Hamilton, he was so fascinated by her extraordinary personality, that time after time he refused all kinds of wealthy sitters in order that he might continue uninterruptedly to paint the lovely Emma. In 1782 the future Lady Hamilton was a mere girl of twenty or twenty-one, living under the protection of Charles Greville, who four years later—when he was in money difficulties—heartlessly handed her over to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, who treated her more kindly and honourably. For five years Romney painted this fascinating Woman continually in a variety of characters.
|Emma Hart as Ariadne 1785|
|Emma Hart as the Spinner|
|Emma Hamilton as the Magdalen.|
|Lady Hamilton " in the National Portrait Gallery.|
|“Perdita” Mary Robinson|
Nobody has yet discovered who was the original of Romney's characteristically charming " The Parson's Daughter," but we may imagine that this beautiful Woman, with a gentle melancholy behind her smile, was also one of the frail sisterhood to which both Lady Hamilton and Mrs. Robinson belonged.
|The Parsons Daughter|
Though he never brought his wife and family to London he supported them in comfort, and when after years of hard work in London his health broke down, he went back to his wife at Kendal. She received him without reproaches, and under her affectionate care the tired, worn-out genius " sank gently into second childhood and the grave." He died at Kendal on November 15, 1802.