Orpheus and Eurydice

WAG 4030


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this cartoon is one of two with the same subject matter (see also WAG 4031). They were probably made shortly after November 1780, when Lord Chancellor Thurlow (1731-1806) began sitting for Romney for his portrait. It was Thurlow who suggested the subject to Romney and translated for him the passage in Virgil's 'Georgics' Book 4, which describes the episode. Orpheus's right arm, clinging to Eurydice, is continued in a long stretch of her drapery and up towards the Fates, creating a physical and symbolic link across the composition. Romney also made a bold and fully-worked ink drawing for this composition which is now in a private collection. ‘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’.