Lot 52
  • 52

George Romney

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • George Romney
  • portrait of Margaret Casson
  • oil on canvas, held in a carved and gilded William Saunders frame with Neoclassical moulding
three quarter length, standing, playing a piano


By descent in the family of the sitter to Mrs FR Davies, by 1922;
From whom purchased by Leggatt Bros, by 1925;
Lord Dulverton, Batsford Park, Gloucestershire;
with Historical Portraits, by 2004 (bt. by the present owner)


Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Art Treasures of the West Country, 1937, no. 141 (lent by Lord Dulverton)


H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney, vol. II 1904, p.27;
BLK Henderson, George Romney, 1922, p, xii, 34, 35;
to be included in the forthcoming catalogue raissoné of George Romney by Alex Kidson


STRUCTURE The canvas has been lined. PAINT SURFACE The picture appears to be in good condition. ULTRAVIOLET There are very minor scattered re-touchings throughout the picture with a small concentration in the sitter's hair and in the top left corner of the canvas. FRAME Held in a carved and gilded William Saunders frame with Neoclassical moulding.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

According to Kaines-Smith who wrote the preface to Henderson's 1922 book, this portrait was painted 'to commemorate the infant genius of a child, who, when seven years old, had performed in public on the instrument that figures in the picture.' He went on to extoll the portrait, suggesting that where 'Reynolds would have looked like a Field Marshal in a sentry box; a Gainsborough like a court lady in a country lane. But Miss Casson looked like what she was, a little girl at home.' [1]

In this endearing portrait, the sitter is portrayed standing at her piano with her hands lightly touching the keys. Her charming devotion to playing the piano at such a youthful age is emphasised by Romney by the scale of the piano at which she stands. The height of the sheet of music appears as if it would be barely legible to the young musician. The composition of this portrait is an exemplary example of Romney's tender and sensitive portrayals of children of which perhaps the best known is the Leveson-Gower Children (Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal).

Painted in 1781, Miss Casson had four appointments with Romney between the 15th and 22nd April of that year. Since no payments were recorded it has been suggested that the portrait was a gift. A note at the end of Romney's sketchbook listing sitters in the north-west 1765 and 1767 refers to 'John Casson,' a musician, living at Red Cross Street, Liverpool in a context which suggests the two men were friends. However, it can only be supposed that this sitter was his daughter. She may also have been painted again by Romney without her piano. There is a portrait miniature of her when a young girl by George Engleheart which is said to have been painted after Romney but where she is portrayed seated.[2]

This may be one of the earliest painted representations of piano playing in British Art. As not enough of the keywell has been shown, it is not clear whether it is an early English grand piano or an English single-manual harpsichord (either would be possible at this date) but family tradition recorded that it was a piano not a harpsichord. Margaret continued to pursue her passion for music and went on to compose several pieces, of which arguably the most successful was The Cuckoo, published in 1790 for the piano forte or pedal harp (Fig.1).

This painting remains in an original frame by William Saunders who worked for Romney througout the 1780s and 1790s. At one time it was owned by the Gilbert Alan Hamilton Wills, 1st Baron Dulverton (1880-1956),  president of the family firm of Imperial Tobacco Company and hung at Batsford Park, Gloucestershire.

[1] BLK Henderson, lit.op.cit, 1922, p.xii
[2] See Bonhams London, 22 April 1998, lot 134.