Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Anne Rodbard, Mrs Blackburne 1787-8

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Anne Rodbard, Mrs Blackburne, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 ½ x 40 ¾ inches, 128.2 x 103.5 cm
By descent in the family of the sitter to; R. Ireland Blackburne Esq., of Hale Hall Liverpool; Christies sale May 21st 1909, lot 54, bt Agnews £5460 The Currier Gallery of Art, New Hampshire.
H Ward & Roberts, Romney Catalogue Raisonné, London 1904 Vol II, p.13
The Currier Gallery of Art, USA
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This portrait of a young married woman in the late 1780s shows Romney at the height of his artistic and commercial success. His account books between 1776 and 1795 record some 1500 sitters, during which time he was renowned for his portraits of beautiful society women. This example was painted between 1787-8.

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. But it was Romney’s fresh technical approach to both portraiture and characterisation, signified here in the broad brushwork of Anne Blackburne’s dress and the subtle texture of her face, that helped transform the depiction of women. Above all, the emphasis is placed firmly on the sitter’s personal allure, as opposed to her decorous pose, fashionable dress, or social position. The fluidity of the whole picture generates a dramatic impression of light (even sensual) vitality, and differed markedly from the rigid formality of many earlier artists. Here, therefore, is a work that demonstrates not only a new approach to portraiture, but suggests, not least in Mrs Blackburne’s distinctly come hither expression, a more liberal approach to the portrayal of women. It is as much a symbol of the golden age of English female portraiture – that brief period between the Rabelaisian debauchery of Hogarth, and the prudish formality of Victorian England – as an individual example of Romney’s supreme skill.

Anne Rodbard married, in 1781, John Blackburne, Member of Parliament for Lancashire for 46 years. It seems from Blackburne’s Parliamentary speeches that the family fortune grew with the fortunes of Lancashire industry, where they had two estates, Orford Hall and Hale Hall. Both Anne and her husband were painted by Romney, as well as her cousin Sarah Rodbard. Numerous entries for Anne Blackburne can be found in Romney’s account book throughout 1787 and 1788, while subsequent entries in 1789 and 1790 relate to the later addition, by Romney, of Anne’s hat.

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. There he worked in a hard, precise manner, reminiscent of Nathaniel Dance, but he felt that his art lacked the schooling of Italy, and so set off across the Alps in 1773, in the company of the painter Ozias Humphrey.

When he returned in 1776 -quite penniless- he established himself once more in London, and very swiftly began to rival the long-established Gainsborough and Reynolds in popularity. His technique encompassed a thorough understanding of form and colour -and a greater concern with finish than is apparent in the works of his contemporaries- with a freshness and buoyancy that had an immediate appeal for clients. He has also made himself master of a neo-classical approach to portraiture which embraced modern fashion without compromising a naturalness that English sitters so admired.

Reynolds disliked the younger man intensely, not only for his sudden claim on part of Reynolds''s market, but for fact that he prospered despite total independence from the Royal Academy. It must also be said that Romney''s technique avoided the pitfalls of Reynolds''s later experiments. The enduring life and freshness of the faces of Romney sitters was a telling contrast with the deathly palour that, even in the subjects'' lifetimes, occasionally began to emerge from the fading pigments of Reynolds.
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