Abbot Hall Receives Screen Painted by George Romney

Posted in museums by Editor on April 30, 2022

From the press release (7 April 2022). . .

George Romney, Painted Screen, ca. 1760s (Kendal: Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum).

Lakeland Arts has received a four-paneled painted screen created by English portrait painter George Romney (1734–1802). The work has been allocated to Lakeland Arts for the nation through HM Government Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance Tax Scheme by the Estate of Patricia Jaffé, administered by Arts Council England. The painted screen now enters the Abbot Hall Collection permanently, alongside several other Romney pieces acquired by Lakeland Arts throughout its 65-year history.

Dated by Alex Kidson as belonging to the early stages of the painter’s career, the screen is believed to have been painted during Romney’s early years in London, from 1762 onwards. The work takes its inspiration from the publication of engravings of wall paintings discovered in Pompeii in 1749 and circulated throughout Europe in Le Antichità di Ercolano Esposte (Antiquities of Herculaneum Exposed), first published in 1757. Romney has reworked the antique figures into poses of his own devising which echo their classical source. In doing so, the screen anticipates his later preoccupation with classical subject matter.

George Romeny, The Gower Family, The Children of Granville, 2nd Earl Gower, 1776–77, oil on canvas, 203 × 235 cm (Kendal: Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum).

Abbot Hall is home to one of the finest collections of Romney paintings in Britain, including the 1759–60 portrait of Captain Robert Banks, the 1796 group portrait The Four Friends, a pastel portrait of the Romantic poet Charlotte Smith, and several sketchbooks. Most significantly, the Collection holds claim to Romney’s masterpiece, the 1776–77 depiction of The Gower Family, the Children of Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Gower. A direct line can be drawn between the dancer bearing a tambourine in the second leaf of the painted screen and Lady Anne’s posture in The Gower Family.

Romney was one of the most fashionable and sought-after artists of his time and is known for his engagement with classical themes. The son of a cabinet-maker, Romney was born in Dalton-in-Furness in Lancashire (now Cumbria) and received informal artistic training in his youth. His career began in earnest when he moved to Kendal aged 21 to begin an apprenticeship under the Cumbrian portraitist Christopher Steele and later established his own studio in the town. Romney married the daughter of his landlady, who remained in Kendal with their family when he moved to London to pursue his ambitions. Although he returned sporadically to Cumbria, he moved back permanently towards the end of his working career and was nursed by his wife through two years of ill health before passing away in 1802.

The permanent allocation of the screen will provide an unrivalled opportunity for Abbot Hall visitors to see the development of this important aspect of Romney’s art throughout his working life. The screen may be the earliest surviving piece to illustrate Romney’s exploration of antique themes, and The Gower Family is considered his finest example of this genre, in any UK public collection. It is therefore fitting for both works to be in the care of Lakeland Arts.

Rhian Harris, Chief Executive at Lakeland Arts, said: “We are absolutely delighted the Romney screen has been acquired by Lakeland Arts on a permanent basis. Our thanks go to Arts Council England, the Acceptance in Lieu panel and the Trustees of the Patricia Jaffé Estate for recognising the important connection between George Romney and Kendal in allocating this important piece to Abbot Hall.”

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman of the Acceptance in Lieu Panel said: “I am delighted that this remarkable piece dating from the early stages of George Romney’s career has been allocated to Lakeland Arts for Abbot Hall in Kendal. It is fitting that it returns to the town in which the artist spent the early years of his career. It will allow the work to be compared alongside his masterpiece The Gower Children.”

The screen was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax in the 2020–21 financial year but permanently allocated to Lakeland Arts for Abbot Hall in March 2022. In 2020–21, £54 million worth of objects—paintings, archives, and items of cultural importance—were accepted for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu and Cultural Gifts Schemes and allocated to museums across the UK.

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