Attributed to George Romney, 1734 – 1802
Portrait of the Rt Hon Diana, "suo jure" Baroness Barham 1762–1823
Rt Hon Diana, "suo jure" Baroness Barham

on the reverse "Rt Hon Diana/Baroness Barham"

oil on canvas
28 x 24in. (71.12 x 60.96 cm.)


Noel [formerly Edwardes; née Middleton]  in leaf moulded gilt & gesso frame.


 Ryman Gallery


 Ryman Gallery


Noel [formerly Edwardes; née Middleton], Diana, suo jure Baroness Barham (1762–1823), evangelical patron, was born on 18 September 1762 at Barham Court, Teston, Kent, the only child of Sir Charles Middleton (1726–1813), first lord of the Admiralty, tory MP for Rochester, and one of the nation's leading agriculturists, who was created Baron Barham in 1805, and his wife, Margaret (d. 1792), daughter of James Gambier, warden of the Fleet Prison, and aunt of Lord Gambier, the evangelical admiral of the fleet.

For many years, Diana Middleton's family resided with her mother's childhood friend, Lady Elizabeth Bouverie, either at the Middletons' London home at 36 Hertford Street, Hanover Square, or at Bouverie's attractive estate, Barham Court. At her death Barham Court passed to Sir Charles Middleton; at his death it passed to Diana. It was at Teston during the 1780s (and through the influence of the clergyman James Ramsay, a former navy surgeon, who had been appointed rector of Teston by Lady Elizabeth Bouverie) that the Middletons assumed a position of leadership in the abolitionist movement, recruiting, bringing together, and encouraging the campaign's leading adherents, including Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. Outside Clapham, Barham Court served as the pre-eminent centre of the crusade against the slave trade.

In light of the Middletons' evangelical convictions (which their daughter shared from an early age) it is not easy to explain how or why she became engaged to a man of quite different tastes and outlook. On 21 December 1780, however, she married, at St George's Church, Hanover Square, Gerard Noel Edwardes (1759–1838) (after 1798 Gerard Noel Noel) of Exton Park, Rutland, a wealthy—and highly eccentric—landowner and whig MP for Rutland, with whom she had eighteen children, including Gerard Thomas Noel and Baptist Wriothesley Noel.

Throughout much of her life Diana maintained a wide and influential circle of evangelical friends and relations. Despite her husband's considerable wealth and family connections in the midlands, her life continued to revolve around Teston, where her children were exposed to many of the leading politicians and religious figures of the day. They were also exposed, through Gerard Noel's interest in the game of cricket, to the prince of Wales' fashionable circle at Brighton.

In 1813, upon the death of her father, Diana succeeded to the barony under a special remainder. She then separated from her profligate and eccentric husband (who exhibited little interest in spiritual matters), setting up house at Fairy Hill on the Gower peninsula of south Wales, where she established Lady Barham's Connexion, a body of six chapels (and a number of free schools) connected with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists: Bethesda, Burry Green (1814); Bethel, Pen-clawdd (1816); Trinity, Cheriton (1816); Paraclete, Newton (1818); Immanuel, Pilton Green (1821); and Mount Pisgah, Parkmill (1822). On Sundays, after being carried across the fields by two flunkeys in a sedan chair, she occupied a separate room behind the pulpit at Bethesda Chapel; warmed by an open fire, it contained an elevated box pew which was entered by a flight of steps and was reserved exclusively for the Fairy Hill household. When her ladyship grew tired of the sermon, the door of the room was closed and she departed for home.

Initially Lady Barham engaged ministers from England to fill her pulpits; over time, however, she began to employ Welsh ministers, the most prominent being William Griffiths (d. 1849), the so-called Apostle of Gower. Shortly before her death a disagreement over a minor point of church order produced an unfortunate rupture between the Connexion and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, which was slow to heal.

Lady Barham, who had been in poor health for some years, died at Fairy Hill on 12 April 1823, and was buried at Teston. Her elaborate cortège from Wales to Teston produced considerable public interest. The Connexion then passed briefly to the care of her eldest son, Charles, but was eventually conveyed to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. Although deeply religious and often generous to a fault, she was also an autocrat who expected her ministers and congregations to toe the line. Grayson Carter DNB


Just over two hundred years ago, in February 1813, a noble lady came to visit Swansea, apparently by accident. Diana, Baroness Barham had left her home in Kent, to visit her married daughter in Somerset. However when she reached Bristol, she received a letter – her visit would have to be delayed for a fortnight. Her ladyship, not knowing how to spend this time, consulted a map, and Swansea came to her attention. She made up her mind to go there accompanied by William Hammerton, who was her private secretary. While in Swansea she met Revd Mr Kemp, minister of the Countess of Huntingdon’s chapel. He often preached in Gower, so with him she travelled around the peninsula and became very concerned at the spiritual destitution of the people. When the time came for her to leave Swansea and continue her journey, she remembered the darkness she had seen in Gower and felt sure that she could do something to help the people there if she went to live amongst them.

So it was that nine months later Lady Barham returned to Gower and settled at Fairy Hill, a mansion in beautiful surroundings near Burry Green. She was again accompanied by Mr Hammerton and a Mr Bridges who relates that while driving over Cefn Bryn on this occasion, her ladyship suggested that they pray for God’s guidance. So there, at the top of the hill, she ordered the carriage to stop while they knelt and prayed.

Lady Barham was the only daughter of Sir Charles Middleton, and on his death in 1813 had inherited both his title and a considerable fortune. She was also a committed Christian and she now set about using her inheritance to help dispel the darkness she had found in Gower. Soon after her arrival at Fairy Hill she made enquiries into the ‘religious condition of the district’ and found that a few Christian believers were preparing to set up a small Meeting House on the edge of the Green, just a quarter of a mile from her new home. After talking with them she found that she and they held views in common, and she asked if they would allow her at her own expense to erect a considerably larger building than they had proposed, and a Manse as well. This was Bethesda Chapel as we now know it, and its Manse (at one time called Barham House).

Trinity Chapel many years ago

Howell Harris had earlier described Gower as a ‘dark and pagan place’ and another of Lady Barham’s evangelistic efforts was to establish schools so that people could learn to read and then, of course, read the Bible. Most of these schools were linked with the chapels as was the case at Cheriton, where the school prepared the way for the forming of a church. The teachers were chosen as much for their piety as for their ability and the evangelistic purpose of the schools is made clear by the equipment provided which included Bibles, Testaments, catechisms and tracts.

Having settled at Fairy Hill Lady Barham contacted the Association of Calvinistic Methodists to find an evangelist for Gower. (Mr Rees Jones was already engaged as a preacher at Penclawdd). William Griffiths, employed by Lady Barham, came first to Penclawdd and then to Cheri- ton where he was teacher by day and preacher in the evenings and on Sundays.

The little company of evangelical Christians, meeting in private houses but with no regular ministry, was ready to become the first membership of Bethesda Chapel, Burry Green. They, the original ‘church without a building’, considered themselves Calvinistic Methodist as did William Griffiths who continued to live and minister in Gower after Lady Barham withdrew her patronage in 1822. In
1824 he was ordained, and in December of that year, under the patronage of Lady Barham’s son, he became resident minister at Burry Green. In 1855 Lord Barham gave the chapels, at William Griffiths’ request, to the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men….not many noble are called (1 Corinthians 1:26)

The Countess of Huntingdon once commented that she was grateful for the letter  in this verse for had it been not any noble, then she herself would have been excluded from the kingdom! We are glad that this also applies to Lady Barham and that her name is commemorated, to the glory of God, in Bethesda, her first chapel in Gower.

Artist biography

Romney, George (1734–1802), painter, was born at Beckside, a smallholding on the edge of Dalton in Furness, Lancashire, on 15 December 1734, the third of the eleven children of John Rumney (1703–1778) and Ann (1704–1759), daughter of John Simpsonof Sladebank and Bridget Parke of Millwood. Although the artist's later biographers liked to suggest that his origins were humble, the family enjoyed some means. George's father, a furniture maker and joiner by trade, had the leisure to launch industrial experiments and agricultural innovations and was unconcerned to collect his debts. He had a small library, which included volumes on art such as Art's Masterpiece (1697), and he subscribed to the Universal Magazine. His children grew up in a home environment that was enquiring and modestly cultivated.

Education and marriage

George Romney received little formal education. At seven he was sent to school at Dendron, a village a few miles from Dalton, where he boarded with Mrs Gardner, a refined woman who was to be the mother of his future pupil Daniel Gardner (1750–1805). She seems to have been the first person to take his artistic ability seriously. But after only three years his father, who had in the meanwhile bought property and built a new house at High Cocken, above present-day Barrow in Furness, brought him home to work in his joinery business. The manual dexterity and the understanding of the principles of building that George acquired as a youth remained with him all his life: he is known to have carved frames as well as his own violin, and many years later as a successful portrait painter he designed a studio extension at Cavendish Square in London and subsequently his own retirement home at Hampstead. At the same time he retained an uncomfortable awareness of his limited education, which contributed to his shyness in company. He was largely self-taught, reliant on a natural talent for observation and a deep understanding of a few authors and texts rather than a wide book-learning.

In his teens Romney came under the spell of John Williamson, a dilettantish local watchmaker who had abandoned his wife, was an accomplished violinist, and dabbled in mathematics and alchemy. Romney was undoubtedly stimulated by Williamson to look beyond the horizons of his father's workshop, although it required the efforts of Mrs Gardner and other friends impressed by his already pronounced ability to take a likeness to channel his restlessness towards a new career as a painter. He was twenty—and now the owner of Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting and Charles LeBrun'sPassions—when in March 1755 he left his father to become the apprentice in Kendal of Christopher Steele, an itinerant portrait painter only one year older than himself.

Feckless and unbusinesslike, Steele was at least well trained. Romney received from him a solid grounding in the techniques of painting and developed from him a liking for high, fresh colour which was to remain a fundamental characteristic of his art until his last years. It was also indirectly thanks to Steele that Romney found himself obliged to marry, on 14 October 1756, Mary Abbot (1725–1823), the thirty-one-year-old daughter of his landlady, who had nursed him back to health after an escapade with Steele had brought on a fever, and who was now three months pregnant with their child. This shotgun marriage, which the sensitive and restless Romney began by making the best of, but which he soon found stifling, was the defining emotional experience of his life. It cast long shadows across all his future friendships and relationships, and even longer ones across his posthumous reputation.

Almost immediately after the marriage Steele took Romney to York, where they worked until July 1757. Among their patrons was Laurence Sterne, who must have treated them to advance readings from his as-yet-unpublished novel Tristram Shandy, for over the next year Romney made three paintings (all now untraced) from scenes of the novel, in what appears to have been a highly personal and original style. Soon after moving from York to Lancaster Romney and Steele, who had been bound for a term of four years, parted by mutual agreement. Steele wanted to go to Ireland; Romney, whose son, John[see below], had been born during his absence, wished to rejoin his family in Kendal and develop his own career.

Between 1757 and 1762 Romney made a considerable local name in Kendal (with his younger brother Peter Romney as an apprentice) and he also returned periodically to Lancaster, where he became the close friend of the travelling lecturer and philosopher Adam Walker, and where, in 1760–61, the furniture makers Gillows provided him with twenty-five stretching frames. He had two staple types of portrait: small whole-length figures in outdoor settings, usually painted on 40 by 30 inch canvases and modelled on the example of the north-west's most notable painter, Arthur Devis, for which he charged 6 guineas; and larger-scale figures, bust or three-quarter length, for which the portraits of Steele and James Cranke were the prototypes, and for which he charged between 2 and 5 guineas. In the intervals between painting portraits, Romney made oil copies of old master prints, and a number of more imaginative works in a variety of genres which suggest that he was voraciously studying every illustrative source he could lay his hands on. They included a Watteauesque lakeland landscape (priv. coll.), several candlelight studies (one in the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal), and two paintings of scenes in King Lear, of which the King Lear Tearing off his Robes in the Storm(Kendal town council, on loan to Abbot Hall Art Gallery) is for its day a remarkably felt and original response to Shakespeare's text, as well as a powerful exploration of dramatic light effects, anticipating by some years the famous 'candlelights' of Joseph Wright of Derby.

Twenty of these fancy pictures and copies of old masters were offered as prizes in a lottery which Romney organized—testimony to his local celebrity—in Kendal town hall early in 1762. He had become increasingly frustrated by his lack of opportunities and the limitations of local patronage, and also, as his friend Adam Walker realized, by the suffocating cares of family life (his second child, Ann, who died in 1763, had been born in 1760), and he was determined to seek his fortune in London. Dividing the proceeds of the lottery with his wife and leaving her in Kendal, he rode south to begin a new life in the capital, arriving there on 21 March 1762.

Move to London

Romney's twin goals in London were material success and artistic fame. Neither was quick in coming, for he had few connections, could afford only small lodgings, and was aloof in temperament, strongly conscious of superior abilities which he preferred to hone by exhaustive private study from old master prints and at the duke of Richmond'ssculpture gallery rather than in the more communal surroundings of the St Martin's Lane Academy. Moreover, he set out to succeed, with impossible idealism, as an unknown history painter, and instead of courting patrons he devoted most of his first year to labouring on two unwieldy canvases, The Death of Rizzio (which he destroyed within two years) and The Death of General Wolfe (untraced). The latter work—the first treatment in British art of a subject later made famous by Benjamin West—achieved considerable passing notoriety when, in an atmosphere of political intrigue, the Society of Arts first awarded it and then withdrew its second prize for history painting in 1763. None the less, when the dust had settled on this episode Romney had gained little from it beyond the sale of the work to the banker Rowland Stephenson, a special award of 25 guineas, and above all a keen awareness of the influence enjoyed in artistic circles by Joshua Reynolds, who was generally thought to have spoken out against the picture and swayed the vote. Over the next ten years, as he became more impatient for success, Romney aligned his art increasingly nakedly and expediently with Reynolds's, a proceeding that Reynolds himself probably viewed with hostility and that masked the vast temperamental disparity between the two men.

In September 1764, in the company of his old school friend Thomas Greene, now an attorney in London, Romney visited Paris. He admired the works of earlier French artists, especially Eustache LeSueur, but disliked those of his own contemporaries (with the possible exception of J.-M. Nattier, traces of whose style may be detected in his female portraiture of the mid-1760s). If however the purpose of the trip was to kick-start his career in London by giving him the reputation of a travelled artist, it was a failure. On his return Romney moved into new lodgings in Gray's Inn (he also began using the more aristocratic-sounding name Romney instead of Rumney around this time) but his business did not greatly increase. Nor, in spring 1765, did he succeed in his final attempt to win the Society of Arts's first prize for history painting, with The Death of King Edmund (des.; it was awarded the second prize). Both in 1765 and again in 1767 he found it necessary to return to the north-west, where he was a local celebrity and could count on commissions, in order to regroup. His art in this phase is characterized by false turnings and few of his metropolitan (as distinct from provincial) works survive. It was a period of disappointment and frustration for him.

On his return to London from the second trip north (the last time that he is believed to have seen his wife for over thirty years), Romney moved into larger lodgings in Great Newport Street. This was a turning point. Not only was he now a part of the artists' community around Covent Garden, which led him to make such new friends as Richard Cumberland and Ozias Humphry, he now also had the space to paint full-length portraits and could thus challenge Reynolds on his own terms. Early in 1768 Cumberland brought David Garrick to Great Newport Street to see Romney's Leigh Family (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), a grand group portrait which, Garrick's patronizing response to it notwithstanding, made a strong impression at that year's exhibition of the Free Society of Artists. This success was followed in 1769 with The Warren Family (priv. coll.). Together these two carefully planned and magnificently painted public statements established Romney alongside Francis Cotes (who died in 1770) as Reynolds's chief rival as a portraitist in London.

If Romney intended The Warren Family to stake his claim for election to the foundling Royal Academy, he was to be disappointed. His response, in 1770, was to switch from exhibiting with the Free Society to the Incorporated Society, the body from which the leading Royal Academicians had seceded. He was soon brought onto the society's board of directors, and the nature of the works that he showed at its exhibitions of 1770 and 1771 suggests that he was charged with mounting a public challenge to Reynolds. In 1770 he showed a pair of full-length allegorical figures based on the poetry of MiltonMelancholy and Mirth (both priv. coll.), the latter of which consciously echoed Reynolds's earlier Mrs Hale as Euphrosyne. In 1771 his exhibits included A Beggar Man, probably intended to compete with Reynolds's anticipated Ugolino and his Children in the Dungeon, the sublime and severe Mrs Yates as the Tragic Muse (Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane), which was immediately engraved by Valentine Green, and the even grander full-length double portrait Major Pearson Conversing with a Brahmin (des.; fragment in Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, Akron, Ohio), later described by his son as the best work he painted before he went to Italy.

The success enjoyed by these works confirmed Romney in artistic self-confidence and maturity. In the early 1770s he painted more fluently, and with increasing assurance on a large scale; and he had now fully assimilated the Reynoldsian language of classical allusion, as is witnessed in the masterly Mrs Ann Verelst of 1771–2 (Clifton Park Museum and Art Gallery, Rotherham). At the same time he was enjoying more extensive patronage than ever before, and receiving his first commissions from aristocratic families, in the shape of the Grevilles (who had been introduced to him by Richard Cumberland) and Lord and Lady Arundell of Wardour. By 1772 he was thought to be making £1200 a year. Nevertheless, the internal wrangling within the Incorporated Society caused by the financial irresponsibility of its president, James Paine, together with his temperamental aversion to competition and conflict, were already taking their toll on his public career. He exhibited only two small portraits in 1772, and thereafter avoided showing with any of the exhibiting societies.

Visit to Italy

In March 1773, in the company of Ozias HumphryRomney left London for Italy. (The pair had intended departing the previous autumn but Romney had a number of unfinished portraits on his hands and then fell ill with a fever.) For Romney the chief purpose of the trip was to enhance his credibility in the eyes of influential patrons; for although he would also take the opportunity to study classical and Renaissance art at first hand, he was now thirty-eight years old and relatively set in his ways as a professional artist. Throughout the trip his studies were less orthodox and systematic than deeply felt and coloured by personal needs and predilections. Even before arriving in Italy, while still at Nice, he rhapsodized over what was to be one of the formative experiences of the whole journey, his vision of:

maypoles erected in several streets, & in the evening, rings of women, about fifteen or twenty in number, hand in hand, dancing round them, like The Hours of Guido … The air of antiquity it carried along with it had the most enchanting effect; I thought I was removed a thousand years back, & a spectator of the Scenes in Arcadia.Romney's journal of his journey to Italy, FM Cam., MS 1–1917Romney, 83

The memory of this occasion informed the conception of his Leveson-Gower Children(Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal), painted two years after his return to England and the masterpiece of his later career.

Romney and Humphry reached Rome on 18 June 1773, and Romney remained there, living in the Jesuit college and making occasional excursions into the Campagna, for nineteen months. His energies were channelled largely into the study of antique sculpture, his taste for which was greatly enriched and which he drew extensively; and of paintings in the Vatican, the churches, and palazzi, most notably the works of Raphael, details of which he copied in oils. But he also made a surprising number of drawings of the Roman landscape, several character studies of Roman people, and a sequence of life drawings from a nude model, a new departure in his art reflecting his consciousness of his weakness as an anatomist. He gave the impression of remaining aloof from the artistic community and dedicated to his studies, showing little interest in acquiring paintings or antiquities, although he had a commission from Lord Warwick, communicated through Richard Cumberland, to buy paintings on his behalf. Humphry later described him during his time in Rome as 'a man of uncommon Concealment, in no way communicative' (FaringtonDiary, 28 Aug 1803); yet the two men did consort throughout Romney's stay, and Romney also had considerable contact with other artists, above all Henry Fuseli, who in kindling his future energies as an imaginative draughtsman provided perhaps the most profound and lasting influence of the entire trip.

Romney left Rome in January 1775 and made his way through Florence and Bologna to Venice, where he devoted time to the study of Titian's 'amazingly fine pictures, in invention, composition, character, expression, and colour' (letter to Ozias Humphry, March 1775; Romney, 120) and struck up a friendship with Edward Wortley Montagu, whom he painted in Turkish dress (priv. coll., on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He returned from Venice to England through Parma and across the Alps, and arrived back in London on 1 July 1775.

Back in England, Romney faced the critical decisions of his career. He had returned from Italy with his confidence in his figure drawing boosted and his old, idealistic aspirations to be a history painter revived. Yet the trip had exhausted his finances (in France he had had to borrow money from a fellow traveller, Henry Peirse, to get across the channel); his name had been forgotten in his two-year absence and Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps scenting an opportunity, had moved to London from Bath to become Reynolds's chief competitor; while the Incorporated Society was now in obvious decline and in no position to offer him a system of support. He was in desperate need of commissions.

Major works

In November 1775, in a calculated gamble, Romney took the expensive lease on a large house on the south side of Cavendish Square which had formerly been occupied by Francis Cotes. It was in the fashionable new part of London where aristocratic families were building properties and moving to live. At the same moment, perhaps not coincidentally, a series of former patrons came forward with gestures of support. Lord Warwick bought the portrait—extended to the size he required—of Edward Wortley MontaguSir George Warren commissioned a full-length portrait of his now teenage daughter Elizabeth (National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff). Richard Cumberland published his Ode to the Sun in 1776 with a dedication to RomneyThomas Orde, who had bought Mirth and Melancholy at the Society of Artists in 1770, negotiated a commission (ultimately abortive) for an altarpiece for King's College chapel, Cambridge. The duke of Richmond, whom Romney had known since his days studying at the duke's sculpture gallery, commissioned several copies of a portrait of himself (versions are at Goodwood and NPG) as well as of other members of his family and political associates. But the most important patron of all at this period was a new one: Lord Gower, president of the council in Lord North's government, who in July 1776 became Lord Warwick's uncle by marriage. He commissioned a full length of himself in Garter robes (priv. coll.) as well as The Leveson-Gower Children, a large group portrait of his five youngest children from two marriages. Because the sittings for this ambitious work were necessarily protracted, it stood for many months in Romney's painting room, a timely and magnificent advertisement of his powers.

During this period Romney laid the principles from which his portrait practice took off. He established a scale of charges for his portraits below those of Reynolds and Gainsborough, but above those of other artists, thus appearing to offer good value while preserving an aura of exclusivity. He created a distinctively direct and informal appeal to prospective patrons by accommodating sittings whenever he could (which meant forswearing work on historical compositions during the day) and by refusing to exhibit in public and relying on word of mouth for commissions. He employed (at least at the outset) very little studio assistance, which not only seemed to guarantee the ‘authenticity’ of the end product, but also created an atmosphere of privacy and intimacy in his painting rooms. Above all, he clearly consciously decided that the way to make more money was to paint more quickly. After 1775 his handling of paint became noticeably looser and more spontaneous, and he ceased making extensive series of preliminary drawings for his major portraits; indeed, for many of them he did not prepare at all, but began painting straight onto the primed canvas. This had the advantage that sittings might become virtuoso ‘performances’—John Wesley for example wrote that 'Mr. Romney is a painter indeed! He struck off an exact likeness at once, and did more in an hour than Sir Joshua did in ten' (Wesley's journal, 5 Jan 1789; Ward and Roberts, 2.169). But Romney's preoccupation with spontaneity could also be counter-productive: many sittings evidently fell victim to his unmethodical approach and indecisiveness and certain portraits, apparently inexplicably, required dozens of sessions. James Harris wrote to his son in February 1778: 'I have a good account of your pictures at Romney's, but you must quicken him by letters, or he will not execute them in due time' (Harris, 1.372), suggesting that even by this date his inability to complete work, later chronic, was already well rooted.

By December 1776 Romney's career had been transformed. Josiah Green, a mutual friend, wrote to Ozias Humphry in Rome:

when I enter his house I tremble with I know not what! I can scarce believe my Eyes! such Pictures! and the Pictures of such People! I am lost in wonder & astonishment how all these things shoud be! how so short a travel coud give such Excellence to his Pencil! How an almost unfriended Man should at once contract so noble and numerous a Patronage!

RA Humphry MSS, HU2/47

For the next twenty years Romney would remain, in terms of output, London's most fashionable portrait painter. In the late 1770s and the 1780s he had anything up to seven hour-and-a-half-long sittings a day, and on occasion he painted every day for weeks on end. Not content with this he would also make drawings late into the night for his imagined, but scarcely ever executed, historical and literary compositions. This workload gradually undermined his constitution, eventually resulting in regular bouts of nervous prostration and, during the 1790s, in a series of strokes which diminished and finally curtailed his ability to paint. Secretive about money, Romney did not reveal how much he earned from his portrait painting. However, he fully supported his wife and his son, John, fitted out his brother James for the East India Company, extended his father's old property at High Cocken, bought the lease at Cavendish Square, regularly gave money to friends, strangers, and hangers-on alike, and had enough left at the end of his life to buy the small country estate of Whitestock Hall near Ulverston, where Johnand several of John's children lived during nearly the whole of the nineteenth century.

Friendship with Hayley

In the summer of 1776 Romney was introduced to the poet William Hayley. The two men quickly became close friends, Hayley in 1777 composing his Poetical Epistle to an Eminent Painter as a tribute. John Romney later regarded Hayley as a bad influence on his father, but Hayley's company acted as a release for many of the suppressed tensions in Romney's life. In the critical vacuum in which Romney worked, Hayley's constant encouragement and flattery provided a much-needed boost to morale. His invitations to Romney to visit his country house at Eartham in Sussex, where Romney spent several weeks every summer or autumn, gave him the opportunity to relax, to paint and draw in a more liberated manner, and to meet stimulating company among Hayley'sfriends in an unthreatening atmosphere. One of the most creatively productive of these visits, in 1787, enabled Romney to embody the idea for his huge Shipwreck Scene in Shakespeare's ‘Tempest’ (des.; fragments in Bolton Museum and Art Gallery; oil study in the National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome), his major contribution for Boydell'sShakspeare Gallery, which he and Hayley had helped bring into being the previous November. On a later visit, in 1792, Romney met the poet William Cowper, his sensitive portrait of whom is one of the masterpieces of pastel drawing in British art (NPG).

Furthermore, Romney sympathized with Hayley's political views, which were those of a man of the Enlightenment. Hayley encouraged Romney in his determination to avoid truck with the Royal Academy as an institution of monarchical privilege; he admired social reformers such as John Howard (his Ode to Howard lay behind Romney's huge series of drawings on the theme of John Howard Visiting a Lazaretto); and the two men were enthusiastic supporters of the French Revolution in its early stages, visiting Paris in the late summer of 1790 when they were entertained by Jacques-Louis David. Above all, Romney and Hayley were drawn together in their shared perception that they had made unfortunate marriages, and almost certainly encouraged each other privately in self-indulgent and licentious attitudes towards women. In 1789 Hayley described Romney to Thomas Greene as 'having as many sultanas as an asiatic prince' (Preston, Lancs. RO, DD Gr.C.2/3/33), while John Romney wrote later of having been driven from his father's house 'in consequence of his unfortunate connection with the French woman', which may refer to the dancer Thelassie who is known to have been living with Romney by July 1790, and who 'by her meretricious arts entirely supplanted the chaste and coy muse of painting' (letter, John Romney to Hayley, 22 June 1806, FM Cam.). Whether she remained in Romney's household, and was the female half of the French couple later domesticated with him and to whom in 1799 he intended giving his house in Hampstead, in return for unspecified services rendered, is unclear. It is also uncertain whether it is this liaison to which Cumberland was referring when, after Romney's death, he admitted that Romney was:

betrayed into Impurities, which Morality cannot pardon, though Candour may fairly plead that he kept his Weakness out of sight and never offended the Decorum of Society, or lost his respect for Virtue, tho' his Practice did not strictly conform to it.transcript of a letter from Cumberland to Greene, 29 Nov 1802, in a letter from Greene to William Long, 9 Dec 1802Beinecke Library, Yale University, Osborn MSS 7040

In any event Cumberland's words lend substance to the remark, in the scurrilous Memoirs of Lady Hamilton (1815), that Romney's propensities to sensual indulgence were well known to all his contemporaries.

Emma Hart, successively the mistress of Charles Greville and Sir William Hamilton, and then the latter's wife, was the other central figure in Romney's later life. He was forty-seven, and she sixteen, when Greville first brought her to Cavendish Square to have her portrait painted (Frick Collection, New York) in April 1782. Over the next four years, before she was sent to Naples, she became Romney's favourite model and muse, sitting for many studies from the life, among which are some of Romney's most vibrant portraits of the 1780s, and which he used as the basis of a series of fancy portraits of her in allegorical, mythological, and literary roles. The first of these represented her full length as Circe (priv. coll., on loan to Waddesdon Manor); while probably the best-known (and Romney's own favourite) was the Spinstress of about 1784 (Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London), a touching if idealized image of her domesticated existence with Greville, who commissioned the work. Romney's admiration for Emma'sexpressive talents and his encouragement of her modelling, which lay behind the later success of her famous 'attitudes', spilled over into infatuation. He found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on routine commissions, complaining to Hayley in 1787 about the shackles of portrait painting; he continued to paint her in her absence, and when she returned to London in 1791 for her marriage to Sir William Hamilton he commandeered her for dozens more sittings and invited her to perform at his house. On the day of her marriage she sat to him for the last time for the portrait known as The Ambassadress (Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin) but although they continued to correspond desultorily, Romney never saw her again. Her loss contributed to the increasing depression he experienced in the 1790s.

Later years

After Reynolds's death in February 1792 Romney was conscious of having inherited his mantle. He applied through a friend to be made portrait painter to the king, receiving the reply that the 'vacancy was filled' (FaringtonDiary, 29 Oct 1797). His reputation had been tarnished by the unfavourable reception given to his huge Shipwreck Scene from Shakespeare's ‘Tempest’ when it was finally unveiled at Boydell's Shakspeare Gallery in April 1790; but in court circles far more damaging would have been his radical political sympathies, however ill-defined they were. In the summer of 1792 he advertised these more openly than hitherto by painting the portrait of Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man (untraced); his house was said to be one of only a handful in London in which Paine was safe.

Since the mid-1780s Romney had treated portraiture chiefly as a way of maintaining his income, reserving most of his creative energies for historical and literary designs. In the first half of the 1790s, aware of the increasing expectations of the London art world, he managed to bring to fruition a number of his ideas as paintings. They included the large Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions (Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC) and Shakespeare Attended by Tragedy and Comedy(priv. coll.); the grand and sombre Milton and his Daughters and Newton and the Prism(both priv. coll.) and half a dozen freely poetical interpretations of the scenes between Titania and her attendants in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. But this was only the tip of the iceberg of what he planned. His mind teemed with grandiose schemes: for one series on the ages of man, from Shakespeare's As You Like It; for another on subjects from Paradise Lost, divided between depictions of Adam and Eve and the fall of Satan; and for a massive Temptation of Christ from Paradise Regained. He characteristically rehearsed these compositions over and over in small, intense pencil sketches, but was unable to paint them; partly because he feared renewed criticism, partly because until the spring of 1796 he continued to take on every new portrait commission that came his way; above all because his health was now in steep decline, and he was suffering from long periods of debility and nervous exhaustion.

Since 1788 Romney had periodically ridden or walked to Hampstead or Kilburn for his health, to stay overnight or to breakfast, and in 1796 he decided to leave Cavendish Square for larger premises just outside London, where he could set up the collection of casts and sculptures that his friend John Flaxman had just purchased for him in Rome and form an academy for young art students. He purchased a property in Hampstead and between 1796 and 1798 was chiefly preoccupied with expensive and ill-co-ordinated building works there, to the irritation of his son, who begrudged the wasting of his birthright and who, in the summer of 1798, persuaded his father to visit the north to inspect properties there. Romney finally moved to Hampstead late in 1798, selling the lease at Cavendish Square to Martin Archer Shee. However, his dreams of contentment were short-lived. He remained there little more than eight months, isolated and depressed, with his huge stock of unfinished paintings neglected and in many cases left exposed to the elements in an open-air arcade. In the late summer of 1799 he left the house for another visit to the north, this time never to return. He was reconciled with his wife and for the remaining three years of his life lived with her in Kendal, occasionally mustering the energy to draw but progressively declining in health. He died at Nether End, Kendal, on 15 November 1802, and was buried four days later in the churchyard at St Mary's, Dalton in Furness. A monument was erected to his memory in Kendal parish church.


Romney's posthumous reputation has see-sawed violently. Almost immediately, in spite of the best efforts of his friends, his name sank into oblivion. This was partly owing to the lame efforts of Richard Cumberland and Hayley as, respectively, his chief obituarist and first biographer. Cumberland's obituary, published in the European Magazine in June 1803, was surprisingly disinterested; Hayley, who immediately cornered the job of biographer, dallied upon his Life until 1809. When it finally appeared it disgusted John Romney, and it was savagely criticized, notably by John Hoppner (QR, November 1809), who, ridiculing in particular Hayley's attitude towards Romney's abandonment of his wife, set the tone of moral reprobation of Romney'scharacter which has since generally prevailed—for instance in Tennyson's poem Romney's Remorse (1889). John Romney, meanwhile, was equally dilatory in sorting out the chaos his father had left behind at Hampstead. The house and its furnishings, including the casts, were sold in 1801 and Romney's large collection of prints in 1805. But the paintings (minus many unfinished commissions which John had to have completed by other artists) were auctioned only in 1807. The sale was a disaster: it was widely perceived as a rag-bag of rejects and only tiny prices were made. It sent shock waves through the London artistic community.

Romney's name languished in relative obscurity until the 1870s, but during the mania for Georgian portraiture (c.1875–1914) associated with the dealer Joseph Duveen he quickly became one of the most sought-after and celebrated artists in the world. Because demand—especially for portraits of pretty women and above all of Lady Hamilton—far outstripped supply, his work was much copied and imitated at this time. Reaction set in in the 1910s, greatly assisted by the court case brought by Henry E. Huntington over the sale to him as a Romney of Ozias Humphry's Waldegrave Sisters, which cruelly exposed the limited scholarship of many so-called Romney experts. Later in the twentieth century (thanks to the sale of Miss Elizabeth Romney's estate in 1894, which released a mass of the artist's hitherto scarcely known sketchbooks and works on paper) attention concentrated on Romney as a draughtsman. His stature as a great society portraitist, and as the key bridging figure between the classicism of Reynoldsand the brilliant informality of Lawrence and his contemporaries, was played down, and he was reinvented as the soulmate of Henry FuseliJohn Flaxman, and William BlakeRomney was all these things and more: an artist who, under the cover of his professional image, experimented, developed, and reinvented himself continuously, and who in retrospect appears by temperament one of the first great modernists in British art.

John Romney (1757–1832), memorialist, the artist's son, was born in Kendal on 6 April 1757. He was brought up, in the absence of his father, by his mother and paternal grandfather. His father insisting that he receive a good Latin education, he was sent in March 1777 to Manchester grammar school, and from there he went to St John's College, Cambridge. He took holy orders in 1782 and was elected a fellow of St John's in 1785. In 1788 he was presented with the rectory of Southery, Norfolk, through the interest of Lord Thurlow (who was one of his father's chief patrons in the early 1780s); however, he never lived there, and divided his time between Cambridge, Kendal, and London, taking an increasing interest in his father's affairs as he perceived him to be in decline. Having persuaded him to buy the estate at Whitestock, he lived there (on the completion of the house in 1806) as a country gentleman for the rest of his life. On 21 November 1806 he married his first cousin once removed Jane Kennel (1786–1861), with whom he had two sons and three daughters. In later life he devoted much of his energy to his father's reputation. In 1817 he presented 164 of what he considered Romney's finest drawings, together with his own catalogue of them, to Cambridge University, for the new Fitzwilliam Museum; and in 1823 all the surviving black chalk cartoons, which he himself had pasted down on canvas, to the fledgeling Royal Institution in Liverpool (these were transferred to the Walker Art Gallery in 1948). In 1830 he finally published his Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney, a long-meditated rebuttal of Hayley's Life, which, although it tends towards hagiography, is the most accurate and detailed early source of information about his father's career. John Romney died at Whitestock Hall on 6 February 1832, and was buried in the churchyard at Rusland, Westmorland.   Alex Kidson. DNB