Lot 45
  • 45

George Romney

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • George Romney
  • Portrait of Edward Wortley Montagu (1713–1776)
  • inventory number 143 etched into the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Purchased from the artist for 50gns. by George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (17461816);

Thence by descent.


Manchester, City Art Gallery, Art Treasures, 1857, no. 254;

London, British Institution, 1863, no. 183;

Manchester, City Art Gallery, Art Treasures Centenary Exhibition, 1957, no. 193;

Milan, Palazzo Reale, The British Council, British Painting 1660-1840, 1975;

Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, George Romney 17341802, 8 February  21 April 2002, no. 44;

London, National Portrait Gallery, George Romney 17341802, 30 May  18 August 2002, no. 44;

San Marino, The Huntington Library, 15 September  1 December 2002, no. 44;

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on long term loan.  


Anon., 'Pictures and Articles of Curiosity', in Inventory of the Contents of Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/466), Ms., circa 1800, n.p., hanging in the Cedar Room;

Anon., Inventory of the Contents of Warwick Castle, Ms., 1806, hanging in the Cedar Room;

W. Hayley, The Life of George Romney Esq., London 1809, pp. 5960;

W. Field, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Town & Castle of Warwick and of the neighbouring Spa of Leamington, Warwick 1815, pp. 170, 177–78 (‘Portrait of - Edward Wortley Montague - an Englishman, in a Turkish dress - by Romney…with other exquisite portraits by the same master, is ranked among the choicest ornaments of that magnificent and interesting old Mansion, Warwick Castle’), as in the Cedar Drawing Room, over the mantelpiece;

Sir W. Dugdale, Warwickshire; being a concise topographical description of the different towns and villages in the county of Warwick…, Coventry 1817, p. 406, in the Cedar Drawing Room;

Rev. J. Romney, Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney, London 1830, pp. 123–24;

S. Woodburne, Notes on the Paintings at Warwick Castle, 1832, no. 39, hanging in the Cedar Drawing Room;

C. W. Spicer, Vitruvius Britannicus. History of Warwick Castle, London 1844, in the Cedar Room;

H. T. Cooke, An Historical and Descriptive Guide to Warwick Castle…, Warwick 1847, p. 49, in the Cedar Drawing Room;

Cooper’s, History of Warwick and Guide to the Castle, illustrated, 1850, p. 75;

W. Kendall, Inventory of Warwick Castle, Ms., 1853, hanging in the Cedar Drawing Room;

Anon, Inventory of Warwick Castle, Ms. circa 1860, hanging in the Cedar Drawing Room;

Sir H. Maxwell, George Romney, New York 1902, p. 61;

H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Works, London 1904, vol. 1, p. 41; vol. 2, p. 107;

A. Chamberlain, George Romney, London 1910, pp. 76, 87, 267;

E. Johnston, George Romney. Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1961, p. 17;

C. S. Sykes, Black Sheep, London 1982, p. 171, reproduced p. 154, fig 18.

D. Buttery, ‘George Romney, and the Second Earl of Warwick’, in Apollo, August 1986, pp. 104–05, reproduced fig. 2;

J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy, New Haven and London 1997, p. 670;

D. A. Cross, A Striking Likeness: The Life of George Romney, 2000, pp. 63, 67, 90;

A. Kidson, George Romney 1784–1802, exhibition catalogue, London 2002, pp. 101–102, reproduced in colour, p. 101, cat. no. 44;

To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of George Romney’s paintings by Alex Kidson.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The canvas, which has the artist's extensions on the vertical and horizontal sides, has been lined and this has successfully secured the extensions and ensured an even structural support. No further structural work is required. Paint Surface The paint surface has a rather glossy and uneven varnish layer and would benefit from a more even surface coating. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows quite extensive retouchings, all of which I am sure are larger than is really necessary and could be reduced with more careful inpainting. The most significant of these retouchings are: 1) along the joins of the extensions where there are also re-workings by the artist, 2) broad retouchings in the folds of the sitter's costume and in particular on the green pigments of his right sleeve and the folds of his cloak running down from his left hand, 3) retouchings filling craquelure in the darker pigments of the sky in the upper left of the composition, and 4) extensive retouchings in the sitter's beard. There are other scattered retouchings. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in reasonably good condition which I think would be considerably improved, as would the overall appearance, should the painting be cleaned, restored and revarnished and the existing quite extensive retouchings replaced with more minimal and careful inpainting.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Painted in Venice, in either March or April 1775, this is the only painting currently known to survive from Romney's two year trip to Italy, between 1773 and 1775. It is one of the artist's greatest portraits and originally formed part of the famous collection of portraits amassed by the 2nd Earl of Warwick at Warwick Castle. For many years, however, it has been one of the star attractions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it has been on loan since the late 1970s.

A wildly eccentric man, who distained convention and actively courted controversy, Edward Wortley Montagu was the only son of Sir Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and his wife, the infamous and equally eccentric writer, traveller and orientalist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (circa 1689–1762). Described by Isobel Grundy in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as ‘traveller and criminal’, Montagu began his adventures at a young age when, in 1716, at just three, his mother took him on a hair-raising journey across Europe to join his father at the Ottoman Porte in Constantinople (fig. 2). There, in 1718, he achieved early fame when his mother inoculated him against smallpox, according to the practise of Turkish folk medicine, a treatment which she would later help to establish back home in England. Montagu's early experience abroad bred in him a precociousness and independence beyond his years. Returning to England for his education he was sent to Westminster School, but ran away frequently, one on occasion, at the age of thirteen, enrolling himself in a course of oriental languages and taking up with a mistress seven years his senior, before being discovered by his parents and unceremoniously reduced 'to the humble condition of a schoolboy'.1 On another occasion he made it all the way to Portugal, where he found work on a vineyard, and managed to elude capture for two years. Despairing of their son, his parents packed him off to the West Indies for three years with a tutor. In 1730, by this stage back home, at the age of just seventeen, unrepentant and defiant as ever, he inexplicably married ‘a woman of very low degree'2 said to be a washerwoman named Sally. The marriage did not last long however. The affair was hushed up and he was again sent abroad by his parents, whilst his father took advice about disinheriting him.       

A fine scholar and a brilliant linguist, Montagu spent three years travelling through Europe on the Grand Tour with his tutor, John Anderson. Prone to excessive indulgence in both women and drink, and leaving huge debts behind wherever he went, in the autumn of 1734, having come of age, he finally gave Anderson the slip and returned to England incognito to claim an inheritance left by his paternal grandfather, a brother of the 2nd Earl of Sandwich. Setting lawyers on the case before promptly leaving the country again, he travelled in the Netherlands, before going back to Italy, where he toured Venice and Florence in 1740, and in 1741 enrolled at the University of Leiden to study oriental languages under the eminent Dr Schultens. Within three months, however, he had abandoned Leiden, having again run up significant debts, and was back in Italy living wildly and keeping low company. Ambitious to supplement the meagre allowance which he received from his father, in 1742 he returned to England and, following a short spell in debtors’ prison, with the impending War of Austrian Succession looming, he joined the army as a cornet in the 7th Hussars. Later promoted a Captain in the 1st Foot Guards, he left London for the Low Countries shortly following the Battle of Dettingen and appears to have been relatively successful as a soldier, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. At Breda he made the acquaintance of a cousin, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–72), who was then Second Sea Lord, and through whose influence Montagu managed to secure a seat in Parliament, thus gaining him much sought after immunity from his creditors.

Not deeming his military promotion swift enough Montagu resigned from the army in 1748 and returned to England to become secretary to his cousin, the Earl of Sandwich. Sandwich, who was by now First Lord of the Admiralty, had been appointed minister-plenipotentiary at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, where Montagu’s command of languages proved invaluable. In London he lived fashionably, gambled heavily, was elected to the Royal Society, and regularly frequented the Divan Club; a society formed of young Englishmen who had travelled to the East and affected admiration for the Turks, headed by Sandwich and the notorious bon vivant Sir Francis Dashwood (1708–81). Moving between London and Paris, in July 1751 Montagu bigamously married his second wife, Elizabeth Ashe. However he left her within three months having fathered a son, also Edward Wortley Montagu, one of several illegitimate children that he fathered by different women, including another son, George, as well as a daughter, Mary.

In Paris, in 1751, Montagu was embroiled in an extortion racket which involved cheating a young Jew at cards and then robbing him when he refused to pay. He was arrested and served eleven days in the notorious Châtelet before the case was overturned on appeal. Over the next few years Montagu divided his time between London and a house at Boreham Wood in Hertfordshire, keeping several mistresses. Perhaps bidding for the favour of his father he produced his one great contibution to classical learning at this time, Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Antient Republicks, which was published in 1759. Borrowing against his expected inheritance and racking up ever increasing debts, when his father died in 1761 leaving the majority of his £1.3 million fortune to Montagu’s sister, Lady Bute, he ‘shook the dust of an ungrateful country from his feet’3 and spent the rest of his life in self-imposed exile abroad. Returning once again to the continent, this time accompanied by his eleven year old daughter and her ‘governess’, Miss Cast, Montagu re-enrolled at Leiden University in February 1761, and the following year was in Turin, before travelling on to Venice and Rome; where his scholarship attracted the admiration of Johann Winckelmann. In Rome he placed his daughter in an Ursuline convent before setting off to Leghorn, where in April 1763 he set sail for Alexandria and an extensive tour of the East. Adopting the alias 'The Chevalier de Montagu', he travelled through Armenia, Sinai and Jerusalem accompanied by Caroline Dormer Feroe, the beautiful, twenty-one year old wife of the Danish Consul in Alexandria. Montagu had persuaded Caroline to marry him having convinced her that her husband, away in Europe at the time, was dead. When she eventually discovered that she had been duped, Montagu, who had been received into the Roman Catholic faith at Jerusalem, simply declared that her marriage to a Protestant was void anyway. By then however, Caroline had rather gotten used to the idea of being 'La Contesse de Montagu', and instead of returning to her life as the wife of the rather dull Danish Consul she remained with Montagu for several years.

The exact route of his travels is hard to follow, but he lived for some time at Rosetta, on the Nile Delta in Egypt, and travelled through Ottoman held Greece. In 1767 he visited Zante, Salonica and Constantinople; and for several years travelled extensively throughout Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, and possibly even as far afield as Ethiopia; sporadically returning to Italy, which he used as a base. By this time professing himself a Muslim, Montagu adopted Eastern dress and perpetrated the story that he was the illegitimate son of the Turkish Sultan, a claim that raised no complaint from the Sultan himself, and entitled him to wear the saffron turban and jewelled aigrette of a prince of the Ottoman Empire.4 In July 1773 he finally returned to Venice, where after years of adventuring in the Middle East he lived in grand Oriental style, often to be seen sitting ‘with his legs crossed [and] a long pipe in his mouth’, his beard ‘a great length’,5 and became widely known as one of the sites of the city. A particular favourite among travelling Englishmen, his many visitors included such distinguished figures as the King’s brother, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1743–1805), and Montagu considered himself ‘part of the polite education of any noble youth who comes to this place on the grand tour’.6 According to the memoir published shortly after his death, such was his eccentricity that in later life he changed from wearing Turkish dress to Armenian ‘deeming it not only superior to the Turkish, but to all other dresses in the universe’;7 and the general description of it given by contemporaries conforms closely with Romney’s painting.8 In an era noted for its eccentrics – think of Byron, Coleridge, even his own mother Lady Mary Wortley Montagu – when young milordi capered across Europe and the Near East living fast and gambling high, few men could match Wortley Montagu for sheer exuberance.

Romney must have been introduced to Montagu by John Udny, former British consul in Venice and a well-known art collector, in whose house the artist was staying; and the two formed a strong bond during the artist's two month stay in the city. His portrayal of Montagu, who delighted Romney with tales of his adventures in the East and taught him to make Turkish coffee, bears little basis with reality for a man who by that stage was in his early 60s. Clearly captivated by his flamboyant and colourful subject, Romney’s portrayal of the notorious rogue and celebrated traveller captures a wonderfully romantic and idealised notion of Montagu’s own self-image, evocative of the spirit of the man, if not the physical reality. In contrast to Romney’s work in England, the medium, composition and handling of the painting all exhibit strong characteristics which betray a debt to sixteenth-century Venetian painting; and particularly the work of Titian and Tintoretto. Presenting a vigorous and positively war-like figure, the pose is derived from Titian's similarly exotic Portrait of Ippolito de' Medici in Hungarian costume (fig. 3: Palazzo Pitti, Florence), which the artist would have seen in Bologna in February 1775. Painted on a narrow, rough piece of canvas, the use of which carries the suggestion of a spontaneous, rather than carefully planned enterprise, the artist's choice of material may also reflect a conscious effort on Romney's part to re-create the attributes of those sixteenth-century masters. Whilst much of the brushwork is carried out with a breadth appropriate to the canvas's course weave, the head is painted with a delicacy otherwise not seen in his portraiture; an effect, as Alex Kidson has pointed out, that Romney no doubt considered Titianesque. Other elements of the picture however, such as the treatment of the drapery, the modelling of the arms and hands, and the tonality and balance of the exotically pitched colours, are typical of the style found in Romney's portraiture at this time, and this painting is surely one of the finest examples of the fusion of sixteenth-century Venetian modelling and colour with the eighteenth-century English grand manner style.

On the artist's return to England Romney sold the picture for fifty guineas to the great collector George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746–1816), a nephew of the antiquarian and diplomat Sir William Hamilton (1731–1803). Warwick was Romney's first and most important aristocratic patron and had commissioned the artist to procure paintings for him, especially portraits, while he was in Italy (see lot 44). Via the Earl’s agent, the dramatist Richard Cumberland (1732–1811), Romney had learned of a magnificent room at Warwick Castle ‘where a picture of consideration is wanting according to the proportion of sixty three inches by forty three wide… the subject historical, where more than one figure is employed’.9 The space referred to was a recess in the panelling above the fire place in the Cedar Room, the most important of the state room interiors at the castle. Whether Romney had intended this picture for Lord Warwick from the outset, and planned to extend it when back in England; or whether the idea came to him later and he adapted the composition accordingly is unclear. However his extensions to the picture, painted on English canvas of a finer weave than that available in Italy, and therefore presumably executed in London, bring the dimensions of the painting up to precisely the width stipulated by Cumberland, and almost the height. The addition of an Arab skirmish in the background, over the canvas extensions, completed the composition, and neatly complied with the Earl’s desire for an historical subject. Given that Romney wrote to the his close friend Charles Greville, the Earl’s brother, from Venice in February 1775 declaring, ‘I am exceedingly concerned that I have not hitherto had it in my power to make any purchase for Lord Warwick’,10 it would seem likely that his failure to find suitable alternatives resulted in his decision to adapt the portrait of Montagu, who was a distant relative of Warwick’s, for this prestigious spot. A copy, painted by Romney before he dispatched the original to Lord Warwick, hung in the artist's painting studio for many years, where it was greatly admired and served to increase the artist’s fame. That picture was eventually sold to John Milnes of Wakefield in 1788, and now forms part of the collection of the Sheffield Museum.  

Interestingly enough the mace held here by Wortley Montagu, and possibly the sword, were also acquired by the 2nd Earl of Warwick and have until recently been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. These will be exhibited alongside the painting (see fig. 1).

1. Letter from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to her sisiter Frances, July 1726, quoted in C. S. Sykes, Black Sheep, London 1982, p. 155. 

2. M.W. Montagu, Letters and Works, 1861, 1:III.

3. J. Curling, Edward Wortley Montagu, 1713–1776, The man in the iron wig, New York 1954, p. 161.

4. E. Johnston, George Romney. Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1961, p. 16.

5. From the letters of Lady Mary Coke, Coke Letters, 4:258, quoted in J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701–1800, New Haven and London 1997, p. 670.  

6. E. Johnston, George Romney. Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1961, p. 16.

7. J. Wallis (ed.), Memoirs of the late Edw. W-ly Montague Esq., 1778, pp. 113–14.

8. A. Kidson, George Romney 1784–1802, exhibition catalogue, London 2002, p. 101.

9. A. Kidson, ibid., p. 102.

10. D. Buttery, ‘George Romney, and the Second Earl of Warwick’, in Apollo, August 1986, p. 104.