Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James Oliver 1780s

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of James Oliver, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5cm
The Rt Hon Sir Julian Goldsmid Bt MP; His sale Christie's 13th June 1896 lot 59 bt. Tooth 260; Sir Joseph B. Robinson Bt of South Africa; His sale 6th July 1923 lot 27, bt Knoedler for 840.
Humphry Ward and William Roberts Romney 1904 vol.II p114.
To view portraits by George Romney for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

This portrait, possibly of one of the Royal Household, is characteristic of Romney's bold and attractive style. Romney's sitters, more than those in the works of his rivals, are always imbued with an air of immediacy The impression of roundness and solidity, however, should not distract us from the delicacy and subtlety with which the artist has formed the wig and shaded the face, or the care with which he has formed Oliver's blue velvet coat. Sittings with Oliver are recorded in Romney's diary for 28th May 1783, 5th February 1784 and June 2nd 1787.

Romney began his career in the North of England, but there was 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.

Reynolds disliked the younger man intensely, not only for his sudden claim on part of Reynolds's market, but also 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. This sitter''s complexion typifies the enduring life and freshness of the faces of Romney sitters, a telling contrast with the deathly pallor that, even in the subjects' lifetimes, had begun to emerge from the fading pigments of Reynolds.
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