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Romney's Neoclassical Phase




George Romney. Drawings and sketches. Drawing, late 18th century

Romney's first historical painting was King Lear in the Tempest Tearing Off His Robes, painted before the artist left Kendal in 1762. It was one of twenty Romney sold by lottery to raise money for his move to London. Although Romney had rapidly become successful as a portrait painter, he abandoned his London practice in March of 1773 and traveled to Italy to study the works of antiquity and the Italian masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

 

Drawings made during this, the most Neoclassical phase of Romney's career, reveal a careful academic approach and the impact of his study of classical art. Both during his stay in Italy and after his return to London in 1775, Romney depicted scenes from King Lear. A large-scale black chalk head of Lear is one of the most carefully finished of Romney's drawings in the Folger collection and, as such, among the least characteristic. Its complex modeling and strong contours give full three-dimensionality to the forms and reveal Romney at his closest approximation to the academic method. Lear's strong features and flowing hair convey something of the dynamism of Michelangelo's God from the Sistine Ceiling, while his tense expression has suggestions of that of the Laocoon, though here mental rather than physical agony is portrayed.

 
George Romney. Drawings and sketches. Drawing, late 18th century



Exhibition Highlights

The bearded King Lear is seen again, above, in a large-scale composition drawing of the death of Cordelia.

 

Cordelia lies on the ground, her upper body supported by the kneeling Lear. The artist has followed closely the words Lear speaks: "Lend me a looking glass./ If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,/ Why, then she lives..../ This feather stirs; she lives!" (Act 5, scene 3, 261-63).

 

In the arm of the woman standing at the left, Romney's delicate line provides an ironic contrast to the bulky, shapeless mass of the arm itself with its distorted anatomy.





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