Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton as St Cecilia (1761-1815), 1780s 

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton as St Cecilia (1761-1815), 1780s, George Romney
Zoom
Oil on canvas
18th Century
28 x 23 inches 72.4 x 59.7 cm
 
Provenance:
Possibly Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl Harrowby (1762 - 1847). Thence probably by descent to J. F. Ryder. Sold Christies, 12 Dec. 1903, lot 110, bt. F. Murray. With Agnews 1905. Sold to Scott and Sons, February 1906. The Kimball Art Museum, USA, until 1972. Private Collection, U.S.A.
Literature:
Humphry Ward & W. Roberts, Romney (1904), p.185.
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From 1782 until 1786 Emma Hamilton, then known as Emma Hart, became the artistic inspiration for a momentous series of works by George Romney amongst which this outstanding study can be numbered.

Sometimes posing his muse after mythical and literary characters, Romney's depictions of the infamous Lady Hamilton added greatly to his success as a portraitist and narrative painter. In 1785 the artist completed a full-length work of his model in the guise of Cecilia, patron saint of music. Shown with a music book upon her lap, and sitting beside a pipe organ and mandolin, Romney overlays the sweetly beautiful features, for which his sitter was renowned, with an intense and erotic sense of drama and anticipation. There can be little doubt that this work is the preparatory ''from life'' study of Emma from which the artist eventually derived his final, large-scale pictorial representation: the artist''s employment of loose, experimental brushwork surrounding the subject''s head and figure is clearly illustrative of a work in progress and lends the portrait an outstandingly atmospheric and impressionist presence. Most noteworthy are Romney's visible deliberations about the placement of his sitter's hands which have been left in a sketchy and charmingly unresolved manner.

This work at one time ranked amongst a significant collection of Romneys amassed by the Kimball family in Dallas, Texas for the Kimball Art Museum. The picture''s early history indicates that it at one time belonged to the Ryder family and quite possibly the 1st Earl Harrowby who sat to Romney for his own portrait between April and May of 1781.
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