The launching of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in 1786 was an important stimulus to Romney's depiction of Shakespearean themes. Between 1786 and 1792 his creative energies were largely devoted to designing pictures for the Gallery.
The Tempest, completed in 1790, was the first of Romney's Boydell paintings and his most ambitious historical commission. Romney originally planned to depict Prospero and Miranda in a wide landscape viewing the storm, but he altered his conception to combine a closeup view of these two figures along with a view of the shipwreck. Crowded with figures poorly integrated into the composition, the completed painting was unsuccessful and unpopular. Romney's favorite model, Emma Hart, provided the inspiration for his depiction of Miranda, as seen in a large-scale drawing in the collection.