Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mary White (nee Corrance), 1760s 

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Mary White (nee Corrance), 1760s, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
47 x 39 1/4 inches 119.4 x 99.7 cm.
By descent in the sitter’s family, until sold; Sothebys, London 21st November 1984, lot 31; With Colnaghi, New York.
Colnaghi, ‘The British Face 1625 – 1850’ May – June 1986, no. 22.
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This portrait of a young woman was painted in the late 1760s, during Romney’s first period of success in London. The sitter is placed in a broad landscape, lit with a strong light from the left. Her dress of blue and white is painted with rich bravura, the thin, neatly applied strokes giving the silk an almost tangible density. The whole canvas is lit with a soft pink light, which is beautifully diffused over the blue drapery in the bottom left-hand corner, where the white highlights are given a subtle pink glow through the careful use of transparent glazes.

Romney is best known for his portraits of young women. The latter half of the eighteenth century heralded a reinvention in the depiction of feminine beauty, for which Romney’s ethos and style was particularly suited. He was, first, a man of considerable passion who adored women (he is still famed for the inspiration he drew from his muse, Emma Hamilton). Above all, he relished placing the emphasis on the sitter’s personal allure, as opposed to previous generations of artists who, using the same ‘face-mask’, had focused on decorous poses, fashion, and social position. The result, as in this example, was a distinctive form of sophisticated honesty. Here, Mary White is rather daringly portrayed as a somewhat fragile figure; beautiful, yet apprehensive.

Romney began his career in Kendal, in the North of England. There was, however, insufficient patronage to support a lucrative practice, and he moved to London in 1762. He soon enjoyed considerable success, particularly amongst the increasingly prosperous middle classes. The sitter here was the daughter of Major John Corrance, a soldier of distinction who had fought in Europe at the Battle of Dettingen, and against the Jacobites at Culloden. She married a physician, Snowden White of Newton Flotman in Norfolk, and later lived in Nottingham, where their son, also Snowden, was born in 1784.
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