ROMNEY, George
(b. 1734, Dalton-in-Furness, d. 1802, Kendal)

Portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton as Flora

Oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm
Private collection

Emma Lyon (1765-1815) was the daughter of Henry Lyon, a blacksmith. (She later changed her name to Emma Hart.) She became Lady Hamilton when in 1791 married Sir William Hamilton who was in his fifties. She is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson and as the muse of George Romney. Emma captured Romney's imagination to such an extent that he later described her as 'the divine lady ... superior to all womankind' (Letter, 19 June 1791). In the four years between April 1782 and March 1786 alone, Emma sat to Romney well over 100 times. The outcome of their relationship was a sequence of fancy portraits and literary subjects with dramatic heroines -- over sixty paintings which take Emma as their inspiration or defining feature.

George Romney received little formal artistic training, and was largely self-taught. Together with Francis Cotes and, later, Thomas Gainsborough, he was considered the chief rival to Sir Joshua Reynolds as portraitist to the fashionable set in London. Paintings from his mature period, such as the present work, are characterized by a high, fresh colouring and fluent brushwork, the result of a period of study in Italy, where he was impressed by Titian's virtuoso style.