Sketch drawing of a young man

George Romney c.1765
© National Portrait Gallery, London

For Romney, drawing came as naturally as breathing. He started to draw long before he began his apprenticeship as a painter, and in his declining years, he remained a powerful draughtsman long after mounting depression and infirmity had sapped his will to paint. His approach to painting was underpinned by the language of drawing, laying stress on outline, direct expression, simplicity and spontaneity.

Drawing with three adult figures standing over a young baby

Study for Nature Unveiling Herself and the Infant Shakespeare
© National Museums Liverpool

Four chief stylistic phases are distinguishable in Romney's drawings. Up until the end of the 1760s a delicate pencil technique, the expression of a slightly tentative artistic personality, predominates, most notably in the Kendal Sketchbook. This gave way, around 1770, to more confident drawings in pen and ink, suggestive of greater maturity in a rapid, jagged style.

After 1775, under the impact of his visit to Italy, Romney began to use sepia and later black wash over lyrical pen outlines. This technique gave full expression to the summary nature of his vision, concentrating powerfully on essentials and eliminating incidental detail. Later still, from around 1790, Romney's drawing became even more reductive as his obsessive rehearsal of complex figure motifs intensified. He returned increasingly to pencil to explore abstract effects of mass and light and shade, abandoning his interest in outline, beauty of form, or expression.