Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of John Kenrick 1735-99 1770c.

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of John Kenrick 1735-99, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
With Knoedler & Co. With Reinhardt, New York, 1927. Collection of F.W.Clifford Esq., U.S.A.
Minneapolis Art Institute (lent by F.W.Clifford)
To view portraits by George Romney for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

It is fortunate for us that this painting remains one stage away from its completion. Without the addition of a generic landscape background we feel more immediately in the presence not only of the sitter but, more importantly, of the artist. Romney customarily required around five sittings from his clients, and here we can see, against the cursory yet effect suggestion of costume, his powerful and sure suggestion of likeness and character. It is also interesting to be allowed a glimpse of the artist's process: here, until the inclusion of a background, a dark grey nimbus defines the area of the sitter's head and allows the artist to construct mass and volume.

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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