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George Romney 1734-1802
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Three-quarter-length portrait of Lady Anne Barbara Russell (1764-1814), sitting in a green dress with white collar, and her eldest son Henry (1783-1852) standing on a table looking at his reflection in a looking-glass.
Oil painting on canvas 56 ½ x 43” (144 x 113 cm.) and contained in a carved giltwood frame of George III design
Engraved: in mezzotint by Robert Bowyer Parker, published 19 Nov 1878, and reproduced as the frontispiece of Swallowfield and its Owners1 Lady Constance Russell (Longman, Green and Co., London, New York and Bombay, 1901.)
Provenance: By family descent at Swallowfield
Literature: Lord R.S. Gower, George Romney, London, 1904, appendix I, p. 125, no. 343.
Ward, Humphrey and W. Roberts, Romney, a Biographical and Critical Essay…with a Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1904, vol. I, p. 108
Lady Constance Russell, Swallowfield and its Owners, 1901.
William Hayley,, Life of George Romney, 1809.
Exhibited: British Institution 1852, no. 112; 1862, no. 154.
Royal Academy Winter exhibition, 1871, no. 137; 1893, no. 139.
Royal Academy, 1953-4, no. 393.
Reading Museum and Art Gallery,1964, “Portraits in Berkshire”.
National Gallery, London, “On Reflection”1998-9.
The subjects of the present portrait are Anne Barbara Russell (1764-1814), second wife of Sir Henry Russell (1751–1836), 1st baronet, and their eldest son, also called Henry (1783–1852). The elder Sir Henry Russell, first baronet (1751-1836) had been born in Dover, the son of a merchant. Educated at Charterhouse and Cambridge, Russell trained in the law at Lincoln’s Inn. Sir Henry was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and in 1797 was appointed a puisne judge in the supreme court of judicature, in Bengal, India. He was knighted the same year. In 1812, he was created a baronet, and the following year he returned to England to live out the remainder of his days at his country house, Swallowfield Park in Reading, where he died on 18 January 1836. He married firstly, on 1 Aug. 1776, Anne, daughter of John Skinner of Lydd, Kent. She died in 1780, and is buried with the couple’s only son, another Henry, who died in 1781. On 23 July of the following year, Sir Henry married Anne Barbara Whitworth, fifth daughter of Sir Charles Whitworth, and sister of Charles, Earl Whitworth. The couple went on to have six sons and five daughters; three of their sons entered the East India Company's service.
The child depicted in the painting is Henry Russell (1783–1852), subsequently 2nd baronet, who was resident at Hyderabad in 1810. Two of his younger brothers also spent time in India: Charles (d. 1856), who served as a member of parliament for Reading; and Francis Whitworth (1790–1852), who died at Chittagong on 25 March 1852. In 1820, Sir Henry purchased the estate of Swallowfield Park, situated near the village of Swallowfield, 4 miles south of Reading. The present house was erected in 1689 by William Talman for Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon. It passed through several owners before being acquired by Sir Henry, who employed the architect William Atkinson to undertake extensive renovations. An inventory from 1923 records a number of fine portraits in the family collection, including the Lady Russell and Son; portraits of Sir Henry by Romney and by John Jackson, R.A.; and works by Hogarth, George Richmond, and Sir John Millais.
In his reminiscences, Sir Henry, 2nd baronet recalled the circumstances of the painting’s commission: “In Bedford Row, Romney the painter found my mother holding me on one of the pier tables, playing with the looking-glass. He said, ‘that would make a very pretty picture’. ‘Then,’ said my father, ‘as you think so, you shall paint it’; and this picture was the consequence. It was painted in 1786-7, when I was between three and four years old. I was breeched, as it was called, the day I was four years old, the 27th May, 1787. I remember my sash being sent for the colour, and my mother’s green satin gown, and the table and looking-glass, both of which were painted from the real articles, and which were kept by my father till we went to India in 1797. To show how small the prices of even our best painters were in those days, I copy the following entry from my father’s account book: ‘1789, April 6, paid Romney for Anne’s picture, £42’. Collins, the painter, the first day he came to Swallowfield, asked me by whom this picture had been painted, and when I told him Romney, he said ‘There—now I know what I never knew before, how it was that Romney got his reputation!’ High praise for a portrait that surely exhibits all the hallmarks of Romney’s finest works: the bravura treatment of fabric and drapery; the masterful understanding of reflective surfaces as demonstrated by the mirror and highly polished wooden table; and the affectionate maternal gesture that physically links Lady Russell and her son are described with great skill and sensitivity.
George Romney (1734-1802) received little formal artistic training, and was largely self-taught. Together with Francis Cotes and, later, Thomas Gainsborough, he was considered the chief rival to Sir Joshua Reynolds as portraitist to the fashionable set in London. Paintings from his mature period, such as the present work, are characterized by a high, fresh colouring and fluent brushwork, the result of a period of study in Italy, where he was impressed by Titian’s virtuoso style (‘amazingly fine pictures, in invention, composition, character, expression, and colour’; letter to Ozias Humphry, March 1775). In Rome and Florence, he absorbed the influence of Raphael, whose sensitive renderings of the Madonna and Child have surely informed Romney’s own family groupings. Indeed, the gilt-framed mirror in which the child examines his own reflection recalls the tondo format of many of Raphael’s masterpieces, such as the tender Madonna della Seggiola in the Galleria Palatina. Following his return to London in 1775, Romney employed little studio assistance, and his habit of working directly on the primed canvas without the benefit of preliminary drawings lent a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to his likenesses. Wrote the minister and diarist John Wesley, ‘Mr. Romney is a painter indeed! He struck off an exact likeness at once, and did more in an hour than Sir Joshua did in ten’ (Wesley journal, 5 Jan 1789).
1“There are several portraits of Sir Henry Russell, first Bart., at Swallowfield, one as a young man by Romney, one by Chinnery, which has been engraved, and two by Jackson. There are also two of his wife by Romney, one being the well-known portrait of that lady with her son standing before a looking-glass, which has also been engraved, and which forms the frontispiece of this work.” (loc. cit. p.257)