Much self-taught, Romney began taking painting lessons only in 1755 - and in 1762 he moved to London and quickly gained wide popularity, which began with the award winning Royal Academy of Arts painting “The Death of General Wolfe” (which the famous painting Benjamin West on the same story). 1773-1775 Romney, along with Ozias Humphrey spent in Rome and Parma, and on his return opened a studio in Cavendish Square and again enjoyed great success. In 1782, George Romney met Emma Hart, who was to become Lady Hamilton, and she became his muse.
This gloomy, silent villager, who worked at night on cumbersome "heroic scenes", had the rare ability to convey in his portraits the charm of a human face with such simplicity and brilliance that Reynolds’s clientele began to noticeably decrease. "A man from Cavendish," so Reynolds spoke about Romney, without deigning to call him by name.
Romney worked in a manner close to Reynolds, who actually monopolized England’s portrait painting of the second half of the 18th century, only Romney’s brush was lighter and more mobile. He did not set himself the goal of seriously analyzing the characters portrayed and creating works significant and deep, in his portraits the momentary mood of a person is grasped, they are filled with lively, immediate feeling; and still Romney was able to flatter his model a little, it is not surprising, therefore, that his popularity grew so rapidly, especially among the fairest half of humanity.
True, the descendants judged otherwise. Portrait painting of England of the XVIII century is marked by two great figures, Gainsborough and Reynolds. Romney, of course, did not possess the power of their talent, but the undoubted talent, artistry and a pronounced individuality of the artist earned him a worthy place in the history of world portraiture.
Almost Romney education is not received. He was the son of a cabinet maker, his school successes were so insignificant that his father, without thinking twice, put an end to this senseless waste of money and time and began to teach his son his craft. Often afterwards, Romney’s incredible spelling mistakes astounded his addressees. Father taught Romney to make violins, and they say that passion for music occupied the second place in the artist’s life after painting. Romney's artistic talent manifested itself early: he painted portraits of apprentices working in his father's studio with surprising similarity. One of his father’s assistants, distinguished by artistic inclinations, wrote out a monthly illustrated magazine, the engravings of which were copied by young Romney. Only at the age of 21, he began to study painting with a visiting portrait painter Christopher Style, who had worked for some time in Paris with Jean Battiste Van Loo. Discipleship lasted four years. Then, for several years, Romney worked independently as a portrait painter, serving Kendal and the nearby counties of Lancaster and York.
Twenty-seven years old, leaving his wife and two children, Romney goes to London in search of happiness.
In the middle of the century in England there were more than two thousand portrait painters, and, of course, most of them labored in London. It was necessary to possess remarkable talent to achieve that popularity and recognition, which Romney extremely quickly achieved.
In 1775, Romney rents a large house on the Cavendish Islands. Here were the most brilliant and happy years of his life. Like Reynolds, he gets a diary, in which he accurately records the names of all his customers. In less than twenty years, more than nine thousand “models” have passed through his workshop, among them were such famous names as Edmund Burke the philosopher; Turlow-historian; Sarah Siddons and Garrick-famous tragic actors; artist, poet and thinker William Blake; Sheridan; the scholar Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, and the infinite multitude of the most charming women of England. It can be said that the overwhelming majority of the richest, most famous and significant personalities living in England in the second half of the 18th century did not fail to visit Romney’s workshop.
Romney finally completed his somewhat haphazard art education in 1773. This year his trip to Italy was realized, without which no artist of the 18th century could count on the title of professional. Staying in Italy was reflected in the fact that Romney, more than any of his contemporaries, was committed to classicism, manifested in the painter's love for balanced composition, smooth rhythm, cleanliness of contours, his passion for local and clear color combinations. In Parma, the artist attracted Correggio, and Rome shook him with his sculpture. Later, Romney will collect a small collection of magnificent casts from the sculptures "Laocoon", "Apollo Belvedere", and others, and put them in one of the rooms of his vast house.
Not a single biographer and explorer of Romney’s art passes over by silence a significant meeting for the artist with his future “muse”, the well-known adventurer, Lady Hamilton. This unusual woman-daughter of a blacksmith-began her brilliant career with the role of a maid in rich English houses, changing hands, was abducted by Charles Greville and lived under his auspices, married her uncle, famous Sir William Hamilton, participated in all sorts conspiracies and intrigues, became famous throughout the world as the beloved of Admiral Nelson and died in exile in Calais, where she was buried at the expense of one "compassionate English lady."
When Emma Hart, that was the name of the future Lady Hamilton, first crossed the threshold of Romney's workshop, he was under fifty, she was nineteen. She so exactly corresponded to his plastic ideal of female beauty that for many years she became the main figure in his work. He wrote and painted her in the role of Cassandra, Calypso, Magdalen, or just the same as she was in a modest everyday dress, sitting quietly in front of the artist, as in the portrait of 1783. Her last half-figure refers to 1791. This year she married William Hamilton and disappeared forever from the life of the artist, having left for Naples. From about this time begins a decline in the work of Romney. True, he sometimes still creates such wonderful works as the 1782 self-portrait. The incompleteness of the portrait, allowing you to focus on the beautifully painted head, only emphasizes Romney’s rare characteristics psychologism and the complex state of mind in which the artist has spent his last years.
In 1797, Romney moved to a new home in Hampstead, designed by himself. He almost gives up portraiture and, succumbing to the romantic spirit of English painting of the end of the 18th century, completely immersed in the performance of large and complex compositions based on the works of Shakespeare and Milton. These contrived compositions were given to him with difficulty, and, as often happens, he valued them most of all, considering his portraits to be just a means of making a living. But it was the artist’s portraits, their lively, direct charm that made their descendants love the art of Romney. Today, no museum considers its collection complete without portraits of Romney. The Hermitage houses several of his works, including a strict and expressive portrait of S. R. Vorontsov, the Russian ambassador to England, and an exquisite portrait of charming Mrs. Harriet Greer.
Romney's stay in the new house was not long - the chronic illness of the artist, which had tormented him all his life, worsened. Frequent attacks of depression, fear and irritation make Romney in 1799 return to his hometown to his wife, who had been waiting for him for almost forty years. He arrives completely broken and sick, unable to either work or think. She devotedly cares for him and after three years buries her husband at the local church cemetery.