Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A Mother and Child, 1771 

George Romney (1734-1802)

A Mother and Child, 1771, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
43 ¼ by 37 inches, 110 by 94 cm
Mr. Wogan Browne, Ireland; Christies, 24th April 1880, lot 185; Anonymous sale, Christie's London, 20th July 1990, lot 326;
To view portraits by Romney for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

This touching picture was painted by Romney at the outset of his successful return to London in the 1770s, and marks an important moment in his career. Romney had first visited London in 1762, filled with optimism at forging a reputation for himself, and competing with Joshua Reynolds. But his attempt was a failure, and, with few friends and running out of money, he was forced in 1765 to return to his native north-west in search of commissions. In 1768, however, Romney returned to London and, thanks in part to the location of his studio near Covent Garden among fellow artists, found his passage into London society much easier, and thus began a series of notable portraits, such as the ‘Leigh Family’ (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). His success was sealed with a series of exhibitions between 1768 and 1771, in which the present picture featured.

‘Mother and Child’ was exhibited in the 1771 Incorporated Society of Artists, along with other important works such as ‘Mrs Yates as the Tragic Muse’ (Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane). It is one Romney’s first explorations of the maternal theme, and its success must account in part for the numerous portraits of a similar subject that Romney was commissioned to paint – the similarly posed ‘Mrs Anne Wilson and her Daughter’ (Yale
Center for British Art) being an example. Romney’s depiction of a mother and her child was quite different from the portrayals of his contemporaries. Reynolds, for example, often struggled to fit children convincingly into his Grand Manner, and his portraits of mothers with their children tend to be flamboyant and full of action.

Romney, on the other hand, adopted a much simpler and more intimate approach. As in the present picture, Romney’s focus is on the intense bond of affection between the mother and her young child, to the exclusion of dramatic backdrops and expensive costumes. We may be able to glean something of Romney’s inspiration from the comment of his son, John, who wrote that this picture “may as well be called ‘Virgin and Child’, as it resembles an Italian picture of the Madonna and Bambino.” Romney must have seen numerous Madonnas both in London and particularly on his trip to Paris in 1764, where he had seen Raphael’s work in the Louvre.
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