George Romney


George Romney

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Day Sale


George Romney
DALTON 1734 - 1802 KENDAL
Quantità: 3
oil on canvas
118.5 x 148.5 cm.; 46 1/2  x 69 1/2  in.

Together with five preparatory pencil sketches on paper by Romney relating to the composition, four framed together (two verso, two recto), the fifth framed separately, together with a facsimile of two further related sketches (two illustrated). These sketches measure 13.2 x 22 cm. (2), 14 x 22 cm. (2) and 15.5 by 19 cm. (1).
Leggi la scheda di conservazione Leggi la scheda di conservazione


Bought from the artist for 300 Guineas in 1797 by William Beckford (1760–1844);
His sale, Fonthill Splendens, Philips's on the premises, 17–24 August 1807, lot 582, for 200 Guineas, to Henry Jeffrey of Salisbury;
E. Trevelyan Turner;
His sale, London, Christie's, 28 March 1924, lot 86, bought in;
Coulter Hancock;
His sale, London, Christie's, 23 July 1937, lot 144, bought in;
Anonymous sale, Christie's, 22 May 1964, lot 160, for 240 Guineas, to Sabin;
Private collection, United Kingdom.


Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, George Romney 1734–1802, 8 February – 21 April 2002, no. 141;
London, National Portrait Gallery, George Romney 1734–1802, 30 May – 18 August 2002, no, 141;
San Marino, The Huntington Library, George Romney 1734–1802, 15 September – 1 December 2002, no. 141.


K. Garlick, A. Macintyre and K. Cave (eds), The Diary of Joseph Farington, 16 vols, New Haven and London 1978–84, vol. III, p. 840;
W. Hayley, The Life of George Romney Esq., Chichester 1809, pp. 208, 257–58 and 309;
John Romney, Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney, London 1830, p. 234;
A. Cunningham, 'Romney', in The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects, London 1832, vol. V, pp. 124 and 139;
R. and S. Redgrave, A Century of Painters of the English School, 2 vols, London 1866, vol. I, p. 252;
H. Gamlin, George Romney and His Art, London 1894, pp. 198–99 and 254;
Sir H. Maxwell, George Romney, London 1902, pp. 136 and 151;
G. Paston, George Romney, London 1903, pp. 145 and 190;
T. Humphry Ward and W. V. Roberts, Romney. A Bibliographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, 2 vols, London and New York 1904, vol. II, pp. 195–96;
Lord R. Sutherland Gower, George Romney, London 1904, p. 100;
A.B. Chamberlain, Romney, London 1910, pp. 189 and 214;
B.L.K. Henderson, Romney, London 1922, p. 23;
A. Crookshank, 'The Drawings of George Romney', in Burlington Magazine, August 1957, p. 44;
J. Watson, The Paintings of Emma Hart (Lady Hamilton) by George Romney: A study of their significance in relation to his historical works, MA Thesis, Oberlin College, 1974, pp. 13 and 74;
Y.R. Dixon, The Drawings of George Romney in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Ph.D dissertation, University of Maryland, 1977, p. 255;
G. Keynes, The letters of William Blake with related documents, Oxford 1980, p. 95;
D.A. Cross, A Striking Likeness: The Life of George Romney, Aldershot 2000, p. 107;
A. Kidson, George Romney 1734–1802, exhibition catalogue, London 2002, pp. 12 and 226, cat. no. 141, reproduced in colour;
Y.R. Dickson and A. Kidson, 'Romney Sketchbooks in Public Collections', in Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. VIII, 2003, pp. 22 and 50;
S.E. May, ''Tuching the Times too nearly'; George Romney in 1793', in Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. X, 2005, p. 10;
S.E. May, 'Sublime and Infernal Reveries': George Romney and the creation of an eighteenth century History Painter, 2 vols, Ph.D dissertation, John Moores University, Liverpool 2007, vol. I, pp. 38 and 159, vol. II, p. 26;
R. Gemmett, 'The old palace of tertian fevers': The Fonthill sale of 1807', in Journal of the History of Collections, vol. XXII, no. 2, 2010, pp. 228–29;
A. Kidson, 'The Midsummer Night's Dream Paintings of George Romney', in L. Libson, George Romney's Titania and Her Attendants, London 2011, pp. 11 and 17–18, reproduced in colour, fig. 17;
A. Kidson, 'Late Romney, A Reappraisal', in G. Sutherland (ed.), Windows on that World: Essays on British Art Presented to Brian Allen, New Haven and London 2012, pp. 191–192 and 194;
A. Kidson, George Romney. A complete catalogue of his paintings, 3 vols, New Haven and London 2015, vol. III, pp. 772–73, no. 1723, reproduced in colour.

Nota a catalogo

The subject is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, depicting the Indian votaress described by Titania during her quarrel with Oberon in Act II, Scene II. This painting is one of seven pictures on this theme made in the last decade of the artist’s working life. Together these late canvases make up the one coherent body of history paintings Romney ever produced. Widely considered the finest of the group, this picture was described by the artist as one that ‘does me greater Credit than any I have painted before’.1 As Kidson has commented, together they form one of the most remarkable contributions to the tradition of literary painting in British art.2

Romney’s interest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be traced back to the mid-1780s, in a series of four slight pencil studies that appear in a sketchbook he was using in late 1786 and early 1787 (Courtauld Gallery, London),3 three of which relate quite closely to the composition of the present work. The artist’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare had long been nurtured by his friends and connections in the theatrical and literary worlds and after twenty years of creative engagement with King Lear and Macbeth, in the mid-1780s Romney began widening his familiarity with the bard’s other works; the main catalysts for this appears to have been his introduction to Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton), then mistress of his longstanding patron Charles Greville. Given the date of these initial sketches it seems likely that Romney’s interest in Titania was kindled by the news – printed in The Times in January 1787 – that Henry Fuseli had chosen a subject from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first of his contributions to Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery. Romney had been a pivotal figure in the foundation of the Shakespeare Gallery in 1786, and he and Fuseli’s longstanding reciprocal interest in each other’s work can be traced back to 1774 when both men had been part of the British community of artists working in Rome.  

The lack of respect shown by his fellow artist to The Tempest, Romney’s own contribution to Boydell’s gallery, saw him instinctively withdraw into a more intimate and poetic mood in this later group of Titania paintings. Consequently not one of his paintings on this subject was exhibited during the artist’s lifetime, and all seven are characterised by an avoidance of high finish and a preference for minimal figural groupings, which did not require elaborate exegesis (in sharp contrast to Fuseli’s treatment of the play). From his earliest Midsummer Night’s Dream paintings – Titania, Puck and the Changeling (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), in which the figure of Titania was modelled from the life on Emma Hart, and Titania Reposing with her Indian Votaries (Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-on-Avon) painted in 1791–92 – The Indian Woman, completed in the spring of 1793, brings Romney full circle, back to his first engagement with the play in the mid-1780s, and, as Kidson has suggested, ‘it is tempting to wonder whether this picture was always the goal of Romney’s Midsummer Night’s Dream campaign’.4  Recapturing the emotional charge that had first spurred him to take up the subject, but applying the lessons learned in painting the others, particularly with regard to the role played by colour and atmosphere, it is little wonder that the painting was so well received by contemporary critics.

The Indian Woman was bought for 300 guineas in 1797 direct from Romney’s studio by William Beckford, the great aesthete, collector and patron of the arts and subject of one of Romney’s most ambitious portraits (National Trust, Upton House), for Fonthill Abbey. It is interesting to note that it is the only one of his Midsummer Night’s Dream paintings that Romney sold during his lifetime, suggesting he gave it prominence above all others. The picture, however, as well calculated to appeal to Beckford, with it musky, magical atmosphere and unorthodox poetry, and the latter’s high standing as a connoisseur, secured the painting’s contemporary reputation as one of Romney’s greatest masterpieces. Following a visit to Fonthill in 1801, the critic John Britton, in his Beauties of Wiltshire, described the work at some length as ‘quite magical’ and praised its ‘glowing atmosphere’. In Romney’s obituary in the European Magazine in 1803 the picture was also singled out for particular mention and when Beckford’s collection was sold in 1807 the auctioneer, Philips, described it as ‘the chef d’œuvre of that distinguished artist’.5  

1. From a letter of March 1794 to his son, John Romney, quoted in Kidson, 2011, p. 18.
2. Kidson 2011, p. 11.
3. Courtauld Institute, D. 1952, RW 2503, fols 13r, 20r, 20v and 21r.
4. Kidson 2011, p. 18.
5. Kidson 2015, p. 773.

Old Masters Day Sale