George Romney
Portrait of Peregrine Bertie (1709-1779)

Buyer Protection Guaranteed


George Romney (26 December 1734 – 15 November 1802) was an English portrait painter. He was the most fashionable artist of his day, painting many leading society figures – including his artistic muse, Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson.

Early life and training

Romney was born in Beckside in Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire (now part of Cumbria), the 3rd son (of 11 children) of John Romney, cabinet maker, and Anne Simpson. Raised in a cottage named High Cocken in modern-day Barrow-in-Furness, he was sent to school at nearby Dendron. He appears to have been an indifferent student and was withdrawn at the age of 11 and apprenticed to his father's business instead.

He proved to have a natural ability for drawing and making things from wood – including violins (which he played throughout his life). From the age of 15, he was taught art informally by a local watchmaker called John Williamson, but his studies began in earnest in 1755, when he went to Kendal, at the age of 21, for a 4-year apprenticeship with local artist Christopher Steele – a portraitist who had himself studied with distinguished French artist Carlo Vanloo. All costs were to be borne by George's father.

In October 1756, Romney married Mary Abbot (a decision he initially regretted), but the couple were immediately separated when he was called away to York on business by his employer. After a year, Steele eventually agreed to cancel the apprenticeship, at George's request, leaving the young artist – now a father of a son – free to pursue his own career as a painter.


In 1757, Romney rejoined his wife and young son in Kendal, working as a portraitist, landscape and historical painter. In this period he became friends with Adam Walker, the inventor and writer, and also pursued musical interests in his spare time. In March 1762, he parted from his wife, son and daughter (the latter dying in 1763), to seek his fortune in London, where he stayed (apart from a few return visits to Cumbria) until 1799. Throughout the separation, he maintained contact with his family and financially supported them, but they never lived with him in the capital.


In 1763, Romney entered his painting, The Death of General Wolfe, into a Royal Society of Arts competition. According to friends of Romney, he was awarded the second prize of 50 guineas, but this was later to reduced to 25 guineas on questionable grounds. It is said that Sir Joshua Reynolds himself was the prime mover behind this decision, a fact which may have accounted for the lifelong aversion of the two men for each other.

Despite his later success, Romney was never invited to join the Royal Academy of Arts (formed 1768), though he was asked, urged even, to exhibit there – nor did he ever apply to join. This decision certainly cost him valuable royal patronage and support from others connected at court. 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. His own career supported this belief, and it was only towards the end of his life that he expressed the slightest regret for his views.

His early years in the capital were something of a struggle financially. In September 1764, he travelled to Paris (with a friend, lawyer Thomas Greene) for a few weeks to study the works of the old masters (travel abroad was seen as a requisite of a developing artist's training as the opportunity to view great art in London was very limited). In 1765 he again won the second prize of 50 guineas in the Royal Society of Arts competition. In 1768, he made the acquaintance of Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, whose portrait he painted, and who was helpful in introducing him to influential patrons. He also became friends with miniature painter Ozias Humphrey.

1769 was a breakthrough year – he exhibited a large portrait of Sir George Warren and family at the Free Society of Artists, which was greatly admired and helped to lay the foundations of his future popularity. In 1770 he started to exhibit his work at the Chartered Society of Artists rather the rival "Free Society of Artists".


By 1772 Romney was financially secure enough to make the journey (with Ozias Humphrey) to Italy to study the great artists of the past, as he had always intended. He set off in March, making his way through Europe (via Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Nice, Genoa, Livorno, Florence and Pisa) and arriving in Rome in June. A letter of introduction allowed him to meet the Pope, Clement XIV, who allowed him to set up scaffolding in the Vatican to study the frescoes of Raphael. He spent 18 months in Rome making studies and sketches of the great art works on view there. He returned to London in July 1775 (via Florence, Bologna, Venice, Parma, and Turin) after an absence of over 2 years.

On his return, in 1775, Romney moved to Cavendish Square, in a house formerly owned by noted portraitist Francis Cotes. He was considerably in debt, not only on his own account but also due to being saddled with the debt of his artistic but dissolute brother Peter. Fortunately, he was offered commissions by the Duke of Richmond and his circle of friends, which helped turn the tide of fortune permanently in the artist's favour. In 1776–77, he made the acquaintance of William Hayley, striking up a lasting friendship with the writer, and painting portraits for him.

1782 was the beginning of an important new chapter in Romney's life, for in that year he was first 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.

In 1797 Romney left his studio at 32 Cavendish Square, where he had worked for more than twenty years, to move to Holly Bush Hill in Hampstead. In Hampstead Romney embarked on a series of costly building projects, and sold the house two years later. Romney's House is now a Grade I listed building, and Romney is commemorated by a blue plaque placed on the property.

In the summer of 1799, his health broken, and after an absence of almost forty years, Romney returned to his wife, Mary, in Kendal. She nursed him during the remaining 2 years of his life until he died in November 1802. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's Parish Church, Dalton-in-Furness.

George Romney is a kinsman of American businessmen and politicians George W. Romney (1907–1995) and Mitt Romney (born 1947); their ancestor Miles Romney was George Romney's first cousin.

Peregrine Bertie (1709-1779) circa 1780
With inscription “Peregrine Bertie”
Mint condition
with identifying inscription 'PEREGRINE BERTIE, 1780' (upper left) and with the sitter's coats of arms and motto 'VIRTUS ARIETE FORTIOR' (upper right)
43 x 34 inches framed
oil on canvas, unlined
36 1/8 x 28 in. (91.6 x 71.1 cm.)
in a contemporary 'Maratta' frame


By descent through the sitter's son, Albemarle, 9th Earl of Lindsey (1744-1818), to his great granddaughter, the late Lady Muriel Barclay-Harvey (1893-1980).


A. Kidson, George Romney, A complete catalogue of his paintings, I, New Haven and London, 2015, p. 68, no. 92, illustrated.


    43 in. H x 34 in. W
    Seller Location
    London, United Kingdom
    Reference Number
About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2017

Typical response time: 1 hour

Located in London, GB

More from this Seller

Uknown Portrait, possibly Queen Elizabeth the 1st in the guise of Diana the Huntress, circa 1600
Portrait, possibly Queen Elizabeth the 1st in the ...
Oil Paint
17th Century English, Portrait, possibly Queen Elizabeth the 1st in the guise of Diana the Huntress Oil on canvas 11 ½ x 9 inches 21 x 18 inches including frame Elizabeth I (7 Septemb...
Unknown Elizabethan Lady Marriage Portrait, c.15
Elizabethan Lady Marriage Portrait
Oil Paint
French 16th Century Elizabethan Lady c.1580 Oil on panel 16 x 11 ½ inches; 21 x 16 ¾ inches including frame. Provenance: Christie's Paris, 21st of June 2011, lot 54 The Elizabethan ...
Sir Henry Raeburn Provost John Pitcairn of Dundee, c.17
Provost John Pitcairn of Dundee
Sir Henry Raeburn
Oil Paint
The pendant to the present portrait showing John Pitcairn's wife Jean, née Robertson, is in the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino. Both works are datable to the 1790s. Pitcairn, who se...
(After) Thomas Lawrence Portrait of Miss Martindale by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), circa 1792
Portrait of Miss Martindale by Sir Thomas Lawrence...
(After) Thomas Lawrence
Oil Paint
Literature: D. E. Williams, The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Volume 1, p.127; "Sold for 25 gns", published 1831 Thomas Lawrence was the most fashionable portrait pai...
Unknown Portrait of Charles II when a Baby, circa 1630
Portrait of Charles II when a Baby
Oil Paint
English School CIRCA 1630 PORTRAIT OF CHARLES II WHEN A BABY later inscribed lower right: K. Charles II oil on canvas 126.5 by 103.5 cm.; 49 3/4 by 40 3/4 in. 140 x 117 cm including fra...
Thomas Gainsborough 18th Century British Portrait of the Rev. Richard Harris of Wymering Manor (1711-1768), 1760
Portrait of the Rev. Richard Harris of Wymering Ma...
Thomas Gainsborough 18th Century British
Oil Paint
THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH (1727-1788) Portrait of the Rev. Richard Harris of Wymering Manor (1711-1768) Oil on canvas 30 x 25 in. (76 x 63.5 cm) 37 x 32 inches including frame Provenance: Mr...
Nathaniel Dance-Holland Portrait of Phillip, 6th Viscount Wenman.
Portrait of Phillip, 6th Viscount Wenman.
Nathaniel Dance-Holland
Oil Paint
Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1750-1811) was an English portrait painter and one of the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768. Justly celebrated in his lifetime he won several im...
Thomas Hickey Portrait of the oboist John Parke (1745–1829), c.17
Portrait of the oboist John Parke (1745–1829)
Thomas Hickey
Oil Paint
Thomas Hickey is considered one of the most important Irish artists of the 18th century. This portrait of John Parke shows him with an oboe, and holding the sheet music for Handel’s Lar...
Joos van Cleve A large 16th C. oil on panel of Madeleine de Valois, Queen of Scots (1520-1537), circa 1535
A large 16th C. oil on panel of Madeleine de Valoi...
Joos van Cleve
Oil Paint
Identified as Madeleine de Valois, Queen of Scots (1520-1537) attributed to Joos van Cleve (1485-1540) oil on panel 42 x 30 inches 48 x 35.75 inches framed This historic portrait of Ma...
Oudh c.1840 Portrait of Mohammed Ali Shah – King of Oudh, c.18
Portrait of Mohammed Ali Shah – King of Oudh
Oudh c.1840
Oil Paint
Portrait of Mohammed Ali Shah – King of Oudh Oil on canvas On a very rare Indian hardwood stretcher Unframed at present The inscription on his scroll reads: Hazrat-e zill-e subhani… k...
Enoch Seeman Portrait of The Hon George Treby, Secretary of War to George I.
Portrait of The Hon George Treby, Secretary of War...
Enoch Seeman
Oil Paint
Enoch Seeman was born in Poland into a family of artists. Aged just 10 the family moved to England hence why Seeman is often considered to be an English painter. Following an early care...
Unknown Miniature Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (Nicholas Hilliard tradition), c.17
Miniature Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (Nicholas...
Oil Paint
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English explorer, soldier and writer. At age 17, he fought with the French Huguenots and later studied at Oxford. He became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth after...