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THE PROPERTY OF NICHOLAS, THE12TH LORD MONSON, AND HIS TWO BROTHERS.

George Romney
PORTRAIT OF LADY ELIZABETH CAPELL, LADY MONSON (1755–1834)
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51

THE PROPERTY OF NICHOLAS, THE12TH LORD MONSON, AND HIS TWO BROTHERS.

George Romney
PORTRAIT OF LADY ELIZABETH CAPELL, LADY MONSON (1755–1834)
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Details & Cataloguing

Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale

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George Romney
DALTON 1734 - 1802 KENDAL
PORTRAIT OF LADY ELIZABETH CAPELL, LADY MONSON (1755–1834)
oil on canvas, held in its original period gilt wood frame 
249 by 175.3 cm.; 98 by 69 in.
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Provenance

Commissioned in 1778 by the sitter's husband John, 3rd Baron Monson of Burton (1753–1806);
Thence by descent.

Exhibited

London, Agnew's, The (Twelfth) Annual Exhibition on behalf of the Artists' General Benevolent Fund, 1906, no. 19.

Literature

H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney, London and New York 1904, vol. II, p. 107 ;
A. Denney, Burton Hall, privately published, 1950, photographed in the Dining Room;
A. Kidson, George Romney 1734–1802, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and National Portrait Gallery, London, 2002, p. 191, under cat 113;
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of George Romney's paintings by Alex Kidson.

Catalogue Note

This is one of Romney’s finest portraits of the 1770s, and was clearly a commission to which the artist himself attached some importance. It was painted in 1778 for John, 3rd Baron Monson of Burton (1753–1806), whom Elizabeth had married on the 13 July the previous year. A visit of a ‘Miss Monson’ for the 17 March 1778, is doubtless an incorrect reference to Lady Monson, for sittings began at 2 o’clock in the afternoon the following day, and were continued in eight further sessions over the next five weeks, with the last being on the 2 April 1781. Although Lord Monson did not pay his bill (for 760 guineas) until September of that year, a record in Romney’s account book of 29 December 1779 for ‘a case for Lord Monson 4 [shillings and] 2 [pence]’ suggests that the picture itself had reached Burton Hall by then.1 The account book record was for Henry Peirse (1754–1824), of Bedale in Yorkshire, who may well have secured the commission for Romney, for he was acquainted with both the artist and the sitter and her husband. Peirse had already met and befriended Romney in Venice and had helped him out with money when they met again in Paris and Romney was short of funds.2 He later commissioned from him a portrait of his eldest daughter Charlotte in 1786.3 He had also met Lord Monson in Italy, and had travelled with him and Lord George Cavendish from Rome to Naples in early January 1775.4 After his return to England this connection was strengthened by his marriage in 1777 to Charlotte Grace Monson, Lord Monson’s sister.  

The beautiful Elizabeth Capell was the daughter of William Capell, 4th Earl of Essex and his first wife Frances, the daughter and co-heir of Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, KB, and the granddaughter of Thomas, Earl of Coningsby. Little is known of her character, but a contemporary book entitled Modern Characters by Shakespeare, published in 1778, assigns the following lines from The Merchant of Venice to her:

‘The full sum of me
Is sum of something, which, to term in gross
is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised.’5

If we can believe this indirect character reference it is perhaps because her temperament may well have suited that of her husband, who was described by George Selwyn in a letter of December 1775, written in Italy, thus: ‘...young Lord Monson who shows a strong propensity [to gamble] and has been initiated. He has a very pretty figure, and address, and is extremely well spoken of, but I do not apprehend can have great opulence’.6  The couple had two daughters, and a son, John George (1785–1809), who succeeded his father as 4th Baron Monson in 1806.

That Romney took more than usual care with his design is attested to by the survival of several preparatory drawings, such as those now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (fig. 1), the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Princeton University Museum of Art (fig. 2) and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.7 Romney may also have had in mind the magnificent full-length portrait by Batoni of Lord Monson (see previous lot), painted in Rome in 1774, which may well have been hanging by this date at Burton. Although the figures of husband and wife do not face each other, they are both composed in tones of pink, peach and grey, and must have looked very fine indeed together when hung near each other at Burton Hall.

This portrait was painted in the middle of what is generally acknowledged to have been Romney’s finest period, between 1775 and 1790. At this date he was approaching the peak of his success, his newly established reputation cemented by one of his very finest works, The Leveson-Gower Children of 1776–77, in the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (fig. 3). Romney’s best work is typified by its refined elegance and assured colouring, and at its best was more than a rival to the work of his better known contemporaries, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Romney never exhibited at the Royal Academy (possibly due to the hostility of Reynolds) but then he never really had to, for his lower prices and his non-alignment with either of the leading political parties, Whig or Tory, provided him with an extensive clientele. As the present portrait shows, in terms of style Romney was certainly the most neo-classical of these three great painters, a direct legacy of his trip to Italy in 1773–75. At first, as here, he successfully managed to blend this with his characteristically bravura handling of paint. After 1790, however, the quality of his work fell off, though his popularity certainly did not. A nervous and moody character, his passion for history painting as opposed to portraiture is witnessed by large numbers of drawings, but was never successfully realised, as he desired, in a great finished work.

1 Huntington Account Book, p. 11r. We are indebted to Alex Kidson for this reference.

Memoirs, p. 132. Cited by Ward and Roberts 1904, pp. 119–20. Romney later copied a painting gratis for Peirse, and despatched the portrait of his daughter without payment, perhaps intending this as repayment of this loan.

3 Private Collection. Exhibited, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and National Portrait Gallery, London, George Romney 1734–1802, 2002, no. 113.

4 J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701–1800,  New Haven and London 1997, p. 668.

5 Portia to Lord Bassanio, Merchant of Venice, III, ii, 162–64. Cited by H. Doubleday, G.H. White and Lord Howard de Walden, The Complete Peerage…, London 1936, 1987 edition vol. IV, p. 70, note (c).  

6 Letter of 2 December 1775. Ibid., p. 70.

7 Kidson 2002, p. 191, cat 113, n.7.

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