Cavendish Square

Painting of four young children in classical dress dancing in a circle with a woman in a cream dress beside them

The Leveson-Gower Children
© Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Romney returned from Italy in July 1775 and a few months later moved into expensive new premises in Cavendish Square. The gamble paid off. He quickly attracted many new patrons and within three years was the most fashionable portrait painter in London. 'The Leveson-Gower Children', his portrait of the five youngest children of one of the best-connected aristocrats in England, was a set-piece demonstration of his capabilities. It set the tone for many of his best later portraits: broadly and informally painted, but with a subtle sense of design.

A man in dark clothing with two young women at a desk beside him

Milton and his Daughters
© Private Collection

Romney remained the leading society portraitist in London until well into the 1790s, despite his radical political sympathies, which became clear after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. He complained increasingly of being 'shackled' to portraiture, and for much of his later career he tried to break free to paint more imaginative literary and historical pictures. Shakespeare's plays, which remained his favourite literary source, inspired him to produce some of the most poetic and visionary paintings executed in England towards the close of the eighteenth century.