Sublime and infernal reveries : George Romney and the creation of an eighteenth-century history painter
The image of George Romney presented in his early biographies is of a successful society portraitist by day but the creator of `sublime and infernal reveries' at night by candlelight. Today these passionate designs from literature are characterized as proto- Romantic but, paradoxically, they were created within the context of a disciplined renaissance-humanist tradition. Romney's amateur and professional literary friends supplied him with a profusion of potential subjects and produced eulogistic verses about the artist and his works, stressing his sensitivity, seclusion, humble origins and natural genius. Taking their cue from the formulaic writings about artists from antiquity and the renaissance, the poets applied to Romney legends concerning artistic predispositions towards melancholy and emotional depth and provided a format in which his works of sentimental or tragic themes could be appreciated. The desired end result of their concerted and contrived enterprise was a fame for the artist which also reflected glory on the writers. Post-Romantic-historical methodologies have taken for granted that deference on the part of the artist t wards a visors and patrons carried negative associations and have underestimated the collaborative nature of creativity in the eighteenth century. George Romney's career demonstrates that even within changing social and creative orders, and a long-side more modem impulses, longstanding traditions involving a close association between artists and advisors, striving for mutual benefits, survived well into the early-Romantic period. Examination of the extensive money primary source material, including correspondence with literary friends and his jottings on subjects and artistic theories in notebooks is undertaken within the context o f an analysis of Romney's works and the means of their promulgation. This thesis offers a new interpretation of Romney's career and argues that artistic production in late eighteenth- century Britain cannot be fully understood unless the ambitions and methods of the literary figures advising artists are considered.