Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Georgina Smyth and her son 1780c.

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Lady Georgina Smyth and her son, George Romney
Oil on canvas
18th Century
39 1/4 x 30 inches 99.7 x 76.2 cm
The Right Hon. John Smyth M.P. of Heath Hall, Yorkshire The Clay family by whom acquired in Halifax in 1878 Christie''s, private sale, 1895, 1,000 gns. Mrs F.C.K.Fleischmann. Noel Ashcroft Esq. and then by family descent until 1989. Sotheby''s, 12 July 1989, Lot.61, 63,800, bt. Colnaghi.
Rev.John Romney, Memoirs, 1830, p. 193. H. Garni in, George Romney and His Art, 1894, p. 182. H.Ward & W.Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonne of His Works, 1904, II, p. 146.
Rome, International Fine Arts Exhibition, 1911, no. 132. Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, on loan.
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Engraved by Arthur Hewlett for Gooden and Fox, as Mrs Clay and Child.

It is acknowledged that Romney's best portraits are often of young women and children. This sensitive composition of maternal love is adapted from Raphael's Madonna delta Sedia which Romney would have seen when he passed through Florence in the summer of 1773. It is clear that Romney had a deep love and understanding of children and seems to have taken advantage of more sittings for children than he did with his adult sitters. Romney wrote to his friend William Hayley referring to his landlord's children, I begin to feel the necessity of having these innocent little spirits about me, they give more soft delight to the mind than I can describe to soften the steps down declining life. -1
This portrait of Lady Georgiana Smyth and her son was almost certainly commissioned to celebrate the child''s third birthday - he had been born on 20 March 1780. The artist recorded in his diary that their first sitting took place on Monday 17 March 1783 at 1 o''clock. There were twelve further sittings on 31 March; 5, 9, 11, 18, 21 & 24 April; 3, 8 & 13 May and 12 June. 2 On 1 October 1783, Romney was paid a draft by Mr.Smyth of Heath, for his lady''s and child''s portrait, and pack case, 53 2s. 6d. 3 Lady Georgiana was the eldest daughter of Augustus Henry, 3rd Duke of Grafton and his first wife Anne, daughter of Henry Lidell, Baron Ravensworth. She married on the 4th June 1778 John Smyth of Heath Hall, near Pontefract in Yorkshire. Lady Georgiana died on the 18th January 1799. John Smyth (1748-1811) succeeded his father in 1771 and travelled on the continent shortly after and was painted by Batoni in Rome in 1773. 4 On his return to England he pursued the life of a Yorkshire gentleman and was Member of Parliament for Pontefract 1783-1807. His political posts included Lord of the Admiralty 1791-4, member of the Treasury Board 1794-1802, Privy Councillor 1802, and a member of the Board of Trade 1805-6.

John Henry was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge before undertaking a European Tour in 1802. He married firstly on the 25th July 1810 Sarah Caroline, daughter of Henry Ibbetson of St.Anthony''s, Northumberland. She died 29 May 1811 and he married secondly on the 16th April 1814, his cousin Lady Elizabeth Anne Fitzroy, daughter of George Henry Fitzroy, 4th Duke of Grafton.

John Henry was Member of Parliament for Cambridge University for a period of some ten years between 1812-20. Although his father was a prominent Pittite John formed Whig friendships at university where he carried off classical prizes, notably with Lord Henry Petty. On 30th May 1804 his father, who had to sacrifice his office to accommodate Pitt on his return to power, wrote to the Prime Minister:

/ have only to say what has suggested itself to you respecting my son, affords an opportunity for your kindness towards me, which will be gratefully received. I should be very glad to have him trained to business in a line suitable to his pretensions. I have heard that the office of under-secretary of state in Lord Hawkesbury's office, having been declined by the person to whom it was offered, is not filled up, and if you could do me the favour to recommend him to it, it would be a most desirable situation for him and a strong proof of the continuance of your regard for me, which to have forfeited would be I do assure you the most sensible mortification I could receive in life. 5

John Henry Smyth duly became under-secretary at the Home Office until Pitt''s death. He still had no seat in Parliament despite applying unsuccessfully for several vacant ones and in 1811 his uncle became 4th Duke of Grafton and put him up for the seat of Cambridge University which he was vacating but he was defeated by the Whig candidate, Lord Palmerston. However, shortly before the dissolution the latter was returned unopposed on another vacancy and Smyth retained the seat for life. His obituary stated that he courted neither party and the votes which he gave were dictated by his conscience. 6 In practice he voted and spoke with the Whigs in opposition. He was a critic of the Corn Laws and voted in 1817 for parliamentary reform. He died on 20 October 1822, to a high reputation as a scholar, he united great suavity of manner and kindness of heart. 7 At some point during the last century the identity of the sitters was lost and the portrait came to be called Mrs Clay and Child on account of its ownership by the Clay family. It was exhibited under this name in Rome in 1991 and engraved as such by Hewlett. Recent research has re-established the identities of the sitters.

George Romney was born in Beckside, near Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire on 15 December 1734, the third of John and Anne Romney''s eleven children. From the age of twelve the boy worked as an assistant to his father, a cabinetmaker and joiner. At the age of twenty-one he was apprenticed at Kendal to the young and gifted itinerant artist, Christopher Steele (1733-67) who had studied in Paris under Carle van Loo. The following year Steele eloped with a local heiress, leaving Romney to cope with unpaid bills and irate clients. In October 1756, Romney was forced to marry Mary Abbot of Kirkland, who was expecting his child. To support her he rejoined Steele who was painting portraits at York and Lancaster. In 1762, realising the limits of the provincial portrait market, he raised one hundred pounds by holding a lottery of his early efforts at art and moved to London.
Recognition in the capital was immediate, for in the spring of 1763 he won a premium at the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Sciences for his Death of General Wolfe and the following year gained first prize for Saint Paul preaching to the Britons. In the summer of 1764 he spent six weeks in Paris where he met Greuze and Vernet. Back in England he exhibited at the Free Society of Artists until 1770, and then with the Chartered Society in Spring Gardens. Although invited to exhibit at the recently founded Royal Academy, he did not and never attempted to become an Academician. On 20 March 1773 travelling with the miniature-painter Ozias Humphry, Romney set out for Italy. In Rome he quarelled with his companion and stood aloof from other English-speaking residents there, including Fuseli and Wright of Derby.

He concentrated on improving his art by drawing from the nude, studying Raphael''s pictures in the Vatican and drawing from Ancient Roman monuments. He travelled on to Parma and Venice where the work of Titian and Corregio in particular made a deep impression on him. After two years in Italy he returned to London by 1 July 1775, forty-one years of age and penniless.

Romney took a gamble by taking a long lease on a grand house in Castle Street off Cavendish Square, which had formerly been the home and studio of Francis Cotes. Although business was slow at first, Romney quickly established himself as the main rival to Reynolds and then by charging less, he became the leading portrait painter in London producing some of the most glamorous society portraits of the eighteenth century in England. Romney worked extremely hard for his success, averaging about a portrait per day during the season and without the aid of studio assistants.

The defining point in his artistic career was the inspiration he received from the beautiful Emma Lyon, later known as Emma Hart, and later still as Lady Hamilton whom he met in 1782. Falling in love with this sensual and uneducated adventuress, he saw in her the vast ambition he possessed as well as his sense of being an outsider in London society. He painted her numerous times as Cassandra, Miranda, as circe or Bacchante in a body of work in which he excelled and which boosted his already prodigious reputation as a portrait painter. From this date his portraits take on a new vitality and freshness combined with his superb delineation of the human face.
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