Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Self portrait in a Purple Coat late 1760s

George Romney (1734-1802)

Self portrait in a Purple Coat, George Romney
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches, 76.3 x 63.3cm
 
Provenance:
By descent to the artist's son, the Rev. John Romney, 1817; By descent to Miss Elizabeth Romney; Her sale, Christie's London, 24-25 May 1894, lot 183 (bt. Butler, £89.15s) Charles Butler 1898; Thence by descent.
Literature:
H. Ward and W. Roberts Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, London and New York 1904, p.134 no.4; To be included in Alex Kidson’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.
To view portraits by George Romney for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

Engraved
British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits, engraved by W.F. Fry, drawn by J Jackson R.A., 1822

This little known self-portrait, one of only eight recorded in Ward and Roberts’ 1904 catalogue raisonné, has only recently come to light, having been untraced since the late 19th Century. The image was known from W.F.Fry’s engraving for the British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits published in 1822. The engraving, which in turn was based on an 1817 rendering of the portrait by the artist John Jackson, states that the painting had been in the possession of Romney’s son, the Rev. John Romney. It was subsequently sold from the Romney family at Christies in 1894. In the opinion of Ward and Roberts, the picture shows Romney at the age of about 35, and can be dated to the late 1760s. It would therefore show Romney during his first period of independent practice in London, where he had moved from Kendal in 1762, and shortly before his three year journey to Italy, undertaken in 1773.

Until now, this portrait has been almost entirely obscured by layers of later over-paint. Like most of Romney’s self-portraits, the artist originally left it unfinished, with very loosely painted clothing and an almost bare canvas background. The picture was subsequently ‘finished’ by a well-meaning but evidently inept artist, probably at about the turn of the nineteenth century. The later paint obscured the original deep purple drapery (a favourite colour of Romney’s during this period of his career), turning his coat into a shapeless black mass, which disappeared into the similarly obscured murky brown background. Romney’s features, wig, and position within the canvas had also been noticeably altered, so that his head appeared to float uncomfortably above his shoulders. However, the original format of the picture could be seen in the 1822 engraving, and careful cleaning and removal of the over-paint by this gallery has once more revealed Romney’s original composition.

As with many artists and their self-portraits, Romney’s self portraits are an opportunity to conduct upon himself the uncompromising, probing study of character that he could not inflict upon his clients. Only in the self-portraits could he be so candid with a sitter’s emotions, and the present portrait suggests the contained confidence of a young man at the inception of his career. The progression to the disillusioned and reclusive figure, arms folded in retreat from the world, in the 1784 National Portrait Gallery sketch contrastingly represents a rather sad progression of Romney’s own psyche.

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