George Romney's early career

Painting showing various figures getting off a boat with a lake and mountains behind them

A Boating Party on Windermere
Courtesy of Spink-Leger

Romney was born on the outskirts of Dalton-in-Furness in 1734. From 1755 to 1757 he was apprenticed in Kendal to Christopher Steele, a roving provincial portraitist who had been trained by the noted French artist Carle van Loo. Romney's early style, with its bright colour and precocious skill with drapery, reflects this background. He was also influenced by the Northwest's leading artist, Arthur Devis. Devis specialised in small-scale, whole-length portraits in carefully observed indoor and outdoor settings and was one of the first masters of the conversation piece, a distinctively English brand of portraiture closely attuned to middle-class pursuits and sensibilities.

Dramatic painting showing an old man surrounded by various figures with lightning overhead

King Lear in The Tempest Tearing off His Robes
© Kendal Town Council

Working in Kendal and Lancaster, Romney became a favourite portraitist with local patrons. He also made a handful of more elaborate, experimental paintings such as the remarkable 'King Lear in the Tempest Tearing off his Robes', the first product of his lifelong fascination with Shakespeare. In 1762, ambitious to succeed as a history painter, Romney left the Northwest for London. Exchanging a life of local celebrity for one of obscurity in the capital, he embarked on a period of financial hardship as he struggled to make his reputation. See Romney's career: 'Towards the Grand Manor' Few paintings survive from his first four years there, and he was twice obliged to return briefly to the Northwest, where he could count on receiving commissions.

Painting showing one man seated pointing at work on his knee and another man stood beside him

The Artist's Brothers
© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection