Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Master Tennant in a blue suit 1790s

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Master Tennant in a blue suit, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches 128.2 x 102.8 cm
Commissioned from the artist by the sitter’s father William Tennant of Aston Hall, Staffordshire. Mrs. Walter Burns, London; Walter SM. Burns, London, 1926; Sotheby’s London, May 26th 1926, Lot 147; with Lewis and Simmons,
H. Maxwell, George Romney, London, 1902, p.171, no.33. Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, George Romney, London, 1904, p.112, no.33. H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay, London, 1904, II, p.155. H. Ward, “T
Burlington House, Winter Exhibition, 1893 no.39 Newport News, Peninsula Fine Arts Centre; Lexington, Washington and Lee University, Portraits, 2nd May – 29th June 1984. Danville, Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, British Painting,
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William Tennant was the son of William Tennant (d. 1803) - a Lieutenant Colonel in the Staffordshire Militia - of Little Aston Hall in Staffordshire. The sitter was educated at Eton and matriculated from Christ Church Oxford in 1801. He married Maria Charlotte, daughter of the 1st Baron Yarborough. Despite what was obviously considerable family wealth, the Tennant’s seem to have suffered a financial decline. The sitter died in Brighton, and the family estate at Little Aston soon left the family’s possession.

Romney’s sitter books give us sittings for this portrait in April, May and June 1789. Payment of 50 guineas was received on 22 June 1789, with the picture being sent to Aston Hall on 22 June 1790. The Tennant family was evidently keen on portrait commissions at this time, for both the sitter’s parents had sat to Gainsborough 1780s (the sitter’s mother can be found at the Met, New York). It made perfect sense, therefore, for them to chose Romney in 1789 when seeking the finest child portraitist for their son.

This picture bears testament to the remarkable popularity of British portraiture in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, when works by the ‘big four’ – Lawrence, Romney, Reynolds and Gainsborough – regularly broke records for the world’s most valuable paintings. Master Tennant was evidently turned into something of a cause celebre, in what appears to have been a shrewd marketing exercise in conjunction with the then leading Romney expert, Humphrey Ward. The epithet “Romney’s Blue Boy” was clearly designed to follow the celebrated work by Gainsborough in the Huntington Collection, and was, to judge by the number of press references, evidently a successful tactic.
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