chapter  2
16 Pages

In London: architect of his own fortune 1762–4

WithDavid A. Cross

In early-eighteenth-century Britain, there was no significant native visual art. The nobility preferred to commission the work of Italians or Frenchmen, whose work had a greater cachet, based upon perceived cultural continuities in Europe. The Reformation’s virtual ousting of Catholicism had destroyed the British market for sacred art and for two centuries the country’s artistic potential had had few outlets. By the time of Romney’s arrival in London, however, British talent had been asserting itself for several decades and was gradually displacing the work of foreign artists. After Romney had been two years in London, his friend Thomas Greene suggested that they should go abroad to France. On his return to London in 1765 Romney brought with him his younger brother Peter, who proved, however, to be lazy, extravagant and unable to earn a living as a pastellist. Individual sitters and acquaintances aside, Romney also sought advancement through membership of the appropriate professional organizations.