‘An owl in the desert’ 1796–1802
Apprehensive of retirement and the likely loss of motivation, Romney was all too aware of his flagging energies. Throughout 1797, Romney’s manual dexterity was increasingly impaired, and his depression became deeper. Aware of his decline but not wishing to be resented for interfering, his family had encouraged his old bachelor friend William Cockin to travel south to support him. Cockin had retired from his Nottingham school in 1792. After years of being obliged to present a formal professional welcome, Romney had lost interest in maintaining appearances. The studio was littered not only with unfinished portraits, but with numerous portfolios bulging with sketches. He never summoned the energy to be able to sort the salvage from the rubbish, an omission which was to have repercussions upon his reputation. Romney’s family had again prevailed upon him to travel north in late 1799.