The Infant Shakespeare Nursed by Tragedy and Comedy

WAG 4044


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this subject is closely related to WAG 4043 but with the figures of 'Tragedy' and 'Comedy' substituted for those of 'Sorrow' and 'Joy' and a more natural setting. It is thought that the figure of Comedy on the right is modelled on Romney's muse, Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765-1815). One of the bottom sheets of paper has been pieced in at a later stage; the figures of Shakespeare and Comedy are much more fluidly drawn than Tragedy. This was possibly to insert the image of Emma Hamilton, once she had started modelling for Romney in 1783. ‘Cartoon’ here refers to the word in its old sense of a preparatory, full-size drawing for a later, finished painting. They are constructed of several pieces of handmade paper pieced together to create a large surface on which to work. The 18 cartoons in the Walker’s collection are the only ones surviving of groups of drawings Romney made exploring scenes from literature and mythology. It is likely that Romney explored the cartoon form over a period of ten years, if not longer, from about 1775. Romney’s son John (1757-1832) wrote to William Roscoe (1753-1831) that the cartoons ‘were executed in the winter evenings by candlelight as a relaxation when Mr. Romney’s mind had been jaded by portrait painting during the day’.