Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mrs Mary Lutwyche (Nee Thomas), 1782 

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Mrs Mary Lutwyche (Nee Thomas), 1782, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
49 x 39 inches, 124 x 99 cm
By descent from the sitter to Mrs Hippisley, her great-great niece; By descent to John Hippisley, his sale, Christie’s, 14th December 1956, lot 23; Bought by Bellesi for 750 guineas; Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, Texas, until sold; Sotheby’s, New York, 20th April 1983, lot 54; With French and Company; Private Collection.
H. Ward and W. Roberts, ‘Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay’, Vol. II, London, 1904, p.97
The Grafton Gallery, Romney Exhibition, 1901, no.48
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Mary Lutwyche was a prominent figure in Bath in the late eighteenth century. The diarist, Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, records that “none ranked higher than Mr and Mrs Lutwyche” amongst the “leading people of that city”. Her correspondence with Whalley provides in some detail the feelings of the English establishment in response to the revolutionary events in France, and in particular, Napoleon. The execution of Louis XVI, first, and then the arrival of Napoleon, second, sent political shockwaves through Britain, and threatened to unsettle the relative social calm the country had enjoyed for over a century.

The new French Emperor was quickly cast as a malevolent dictator in England. In 1814, after Napoleon’s first defeat, the Lutwyches traveled to Paris, where Mary noted “with horror” the architectural remains of the Napoleonic regime; “The horrid tyrant spared no expense in decorations. Apothecary-like, he thought it necessary to gild the bitter pill he made his people swallow. He has however been too profuse in his use of gold, having spoiled the noble simplicity of the dome of the Invalides, by covering it with that precious metal. I own I feel my heart beat high with indignation on seeing, at every moment, the letter ‘N’ in every part of the palace now inhabited by the best of kings.” Napoleon’s escape from Elba in 1815 brought forth a similar reaction; “It is not in the power of words to describe what we have felt since the news arrived of the monster being landed in France. My good husband could neither eat nor sleep, and my nerves have been in a most shattered state.”

The Lutwyches had gone to France as the guest of the exiled French they had supported in England during the terrors of the French Revolution. Mary, for example, was amongst those who played host to the exiled King of France, Louis XVIII, in Bath, and consequently had many friends amongst the French nobility. The King himself entertained the Lutwyches in Paris after his restoration in 1814, when, she observed, “the gratitude to England is unbounded, and the name of English is passport everywhere.”

This portrait, painted in 1782, shows Romney at the height of his powers. It displays all the stylistic bravura that he employed from the late 1770s onwards, after his revelatory visit to Rome. Romney spent a year and a half in Italy, in which time he perfected a change in his technique that was subtle but transformative. Though he still painted in his essentially neo-classical style, with simple forms, long flowing contours and bold pigments, from 1775 onwards Romney’s portraits grew in confidence and technical competence.

When in Rome, Romney noted in his sketchbook that he should henceforth, “attempt to paint with a fat pencil, be very careful to lay the colour on right and with good gusto.” This new approach, principally the result of studying artists such as Titian, translated into the spontaneity so vital for any artist of the first rank. It is demonstrated amply by the fresh, bright colours and thick, rapid brushstrokes we see in this portrait of Mrs Lutwyche. Here, the sitter’s hair and dress is painted with a luxuriant rapidity unmatched by any other artist of the eighteenth century, while her elegant pose and delicately posed right arm bear all the hallmarks of Romney’s sensitive approach to female portraiture.

Mary Lutwyche was the only daughter of Sir Noah Thomas, physician to George III. She married William Lutwyche of Lutwyche Hall (d.1818), a Captain in the Guards, and wealthy Shropshire gentleman. Mary died in 1845 at the age of ninety-three. Eleven sittings are recorded for this picture between January and June 1782.

[Notes; Mary Lutwyche to Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, September 7th 1814, and March 31st 1815, The Journals and Memoirs of Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, London, 2 Volumes, 1863]
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