Patterns of friendship 1775–86
Portrait painting offered one of the period’s greatest opportunities for social mobility. Official cliques and select societies were much in fashion in the late eighteenth century, serving both the maintenance of friendship and the encouragement of aesthetic interests. Romney’s recreations mostly related to his profession, but in the late 1780s he was allegedly one of the eight members of this exclusive dining club, which is said to have met fortnightly at the Queen’s Head, Holborn, or at the Shakespeare, Covent Garden, and sometimes at members’ houses. Commercial galleries periodically refer to a ‘Studio’ or ‘School’ of Romney. Emma Hart’s departure for Naples in 1786 is often given as a reason for Romney’s increased melancholy during the late 1780s; the deaths of his brother John in 1782, Henderson in 1785, Sheridan in 1788 and Meyer in 1789 doubtless contributed to his dark mood.