‘The man in Cavendish Square’ 1775–86
According to Gainsborough, ‘the principle intention and beauty of a portrait’ was achieving a likeness. Romney always enjoyed the challenge of a new face and could catch likenesses easily. It was a skill that he shared with his master Steele and with Gainsborough himself, whereas Reynolds was sometimes criticized in this respect. Romney was a very rapid worker, and in the later 1770s preferred the pronounced surface texture of a twill canvas to facilitate the broad handling of pigment that he had studied in Titian and other Venetians. By contrast in his Kendal work, such as King Lear in the Storm, and at other times throughout his career, he employed canvas of a finer weave. Cotes and Reynolds used drapery painters like Joseph van Aken and Peter Toms to finish the clothing of their sitters, rarely completing ‘an atom more than the face’, but Romney, like Gainsborough, was determined to paint his own.