The fall of a rebel angel: years of decline 1793–6
Following the deaths of Gainsborough in 1788 and of Reynolds in 1792, Romney was at the head of his profession. According to Nathaniel Marchant, a friend of Romney’s had asked George III in 1792 to appoint him as Portrait Painter to His Majesty; the King had unsurprisingly replied that the vacancy had been filled. Miltonic infernal metaphor had come to pervade Romney’s mood, however. Following one physical illness, he described the experience as if ‘some fiend presided’ and complained that ‘the tyranny of the disease was terrible for four days’. He was increasingly worried about his health, complaining of ‘lassitude’ and, writing in April 1793, he observed ‘my hand is weak and trembles’. In The Egremont Family the sitters are placed in the open air at dusk. The elder boys are aiming their arrows at a bat, a slightly sinister protoromantic element echoing Romney’s preoccupation with A Midsummer Night’s Dream..