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George Romney, 1734–1802

A Conversation (The Artist's Brothers Peter and James Romney)

Former Title(s):

A Conversation (The Artist's Brothers, Peter and James Romney)

A Conversation (the artist's brothers, Peter and James Romney)

Peter and James Romney

The Artist's Brothers

The artist's brothers, Peter and James

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
43 1/2 x 34 1/2 inches (110.5 x 87.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
artists | breeches (trousers) | brothers | buckles | busts | chair | coats | conversation piece | drafting | drapes | easel | fireplace | genre subject | men | portrait | sculptures | shoes (footwear) | table (support furniture) | table, drafting | waistcoats
Associated People:
Romney, James
Romney, Peter (1743–1777), portrait painter
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1766, this portrait shows George Romney’s brothers Peter and James deep in conversation. The objects around them suggest that they are discussing competing approaches to the art of painting. Peter, balancing a drawing board on his knee, points to the diagrams in front of him and seems to make a case for the geometrical principles of design. James holds under his right arm a portfolio and gestures with his left hand toward a classical bust—perhaps advocating that works of art should be informed by artistic precedent. By staging the debate in this way, the artist sought to announce his own theoretical sophistication, as well as that of his siblings. The brothers went on to live very different lives: James pursued a long career in the East India Company, but Peter, a portraitist, was troubled by debt and alcoholism, dying young.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016
One of Romney's earliest documented paintings, this portrait depicts his two younger brothers Peter and James. Peter Romney, himself a promising painter, had studied painting with George from 1759 until 1762, when the latter left their native Lancashire for London, and the portrait is presumably set in Peter's studio. Unlike his older brother, Peter never fulfilled his potential as an artist; he died in 1777, at the age of thirty-four, apparently from overindulgence in drink. James, the youngest of the three brothers, joined the East India Company and eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; he died in 1807.

Romney paints his brothers as gentlemen of learning and taste, although neither had any formal education-their learning having been furthered only by their father's love of books. In their portrait they discuss geometrical drawings on the easel in front of Peter and, in doing so, demonstrate the capacity to learn through intellectual discussions and demonstrations of scholarly theories as they pertain to art. Busts and statuettes casually scattered around the studio also suggest that Peter, like George, allied himself artistically with the emerging school of Neoclassical painters, who found beauty in the crisp, rational lines of geometrical forms.

By the time of the portrait George Romney had already developed a strong distaste for the sinuous and curving lines of Rococo design. He left England for the first time in 1764, traveling to Paris in order to study Continental art firsthand, and from there he wrote to Peter: The degeneracy of taste that runs through every thing, is farther gone here than in London. The ridiculous and fantastical are the only points they seem to aim at…The vast collections I see every day, make me feel no inclination either for designing or writing at present.1 His natural predilection for strong linear forms-as opposed to the "degenerate" forms of Rococo painting-can be detected in his portrait of his brothers: the clarity of composition and the lines of the figures, the cool colors of their clothes, and the spartan setting are harbingers of the Neoclassical style he would embrace wholeheartedly following his stay in Rome from 1773 to 1775. Although he aspired to gain fame as a painter of Historical subjects, his reputation was clearly made from his portraits. Painted at the outset of his career and richly suggestive of the ways in which his style would evolve, Romney's portrait of his brothers quietly evinces both his hopes for their futures and his own ambitions as a learned and serious artist.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 56, no. 16, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Art in Focus : John Flaxman Modeling Bust of William Hayley (Yale Center for British Art, 2010-02-04 - 2010-05-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

George Romney (1734-1802) (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2002-09-15 - 2002-12-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Romney (1734-1802) (National Portrait Gallery, 2002-05-30 - 2002-08-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Romney (1734-1802) (Walker Art Gallery, 2002-02-07 - 2002-04-28) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Elizabeth E. Barker, George Romney's Early Candlelight Pictures, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 5, 2000, pp.9, 30, , pl. 2, NJ18 R65 T7 2000 (YCBA) [YCBA]

David Brenneman, Romney Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 1, 1996, pp. 16, 17, NJ18 R65 T7 1996 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Arthur Bensley Chamberlain, George Romney, Methuen & co., ltd., London, 1910, pp. 51, 229, 383, NJ18 R65 C43 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christie's sale catalogue : Catalogue of Pictures of George Romney ... the Property of Miss Romney ... : 24-25 May 1894, Christie's, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, May 24 - 25, 1894, p. 18, lot. no. 192, Art Sales Catalogues Online [ORBIS]

Christie's sale catalogue : Catalogue of the valuable collection of ancient and modern pictures : 9 May 1896, Christie's, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, May 9, 1896, p. 37, Lot 148, Fiche B51 (YCBA) Also available online : Art Sales Catalogues Online = Lugt # 54420 [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 190-191, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

David A. Cross, A striking likeness, the life of George Romney , Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, England Brookfield, VT, 2000, pp. 41-2, fig. 7, NJ18 R65 C76 2000 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellen G. D'Oench, The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis & his contemporaries, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, pp. 27-28, NJ18 D5151 D64 OVERSIZE [ORBIS]

Yvonne Romney Dixon, Romney Sketchbooks in Public Collections, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 8, 2003, p.36, no. 33, NJ18 R65 T7 2003 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yvonne Romney Dixon, The Kendal sketchbook 1763-71, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 15, 2011, Part 1, p. 16, p. 28; Part 2, p. 1, NJ18.R65 T7 2010-2011 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Exhibition of British art, c. 1000-1860 : full catalogue [of the Winter Exhibition held on January 6-March 10, 1934]., , , Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1934, p. 111, no. 259, N6761 L65 (YCBA) Also available on line [Royal Academy] and on mictofiche [B 162 (YCBA)] [YCBA]

Free Society of Artists, A catalogue of the paintings, sculptures, architecture, models, drawings, engravings &c. now exhibiting by the artists, associated for the relief their distresed brethren, their widows, and children, at Mr. Moreing's Great-Room, in Maiden-Lane, Covent-Ga, Catalogue of the Free Society of Artists, London, 1766, p. 10, no. 144, N5055 S62 C3 1760A (YCBA) Also available on line In 18th century Collection Online data base [YCBA]

Hilda Gamlin, George Romney and his art, The Macmillan Company, London; New York, 1894, p. 39, J18 R666 894G (SML) [ORBIS]

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 60, ND466 G67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Lucinda Hawksley, Fifty British Artists You Should Know, Prestel, Munich : New York, NY, 2011, pp. 36-37, N6796 .H39 2011 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Alex Kidson, George Romney : a complete catalogue of his paintings, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 2015, v. 2, pp. 505-06, cat. no. 1127, col. pl. 1127, NJ18.R65 A12 +K54 2015 v.1-3 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Alex Kidson, George Romney, 1734-1802, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2002, pp. 3-4, 60-61, no. 15, NJ18 R65 K53 2002 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Alex Kidson, Those delightful regions of imagination, essays on George Romney , no. 9, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, 2002, pp. 161-64, 168; p. 191, fig. 58, NJ18 R65 T57 2002 (YCBA) [YCBA]

B. E. Maclean-Eltham, George Romney : Paintings in public collections, , The Romney Society, Kendal, Cumbria, England, 1996, p. 50, NJ18 R65 M33 1996 [ORBIS]

Todd Magreta, George Romney's Late Portrait Groups at Abbot Hall and Yale, British Art Journal, vol. VIII, Autumn 2007, p. 63,64, fig. 4, N6761 B74 + (YCBA) Also available online (ORBIS) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 56, no. 16, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Arthur S. Marks, Private and Public in The Peale Family, Charles Willson Peale as Pater and Painter , Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 156, no. 2, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, June 2012, pp. 143-44, fig. 11, Online see ORBIS Misc Open Access E-Journals Hard copy also available : A53p 375 (SML) [ORBIS]

Sir Herbert Maxwell, George Romney ; illustrated with twenty plates and a photogravure portrait as frontispiece, Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd., 1902, p. 174, no. 79, WB 20052 (LSF) Copy of London edition is also available : Baskin 494 (BRBL) [ORBIS]

Painting in England 1700-1850 : collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon : Exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, , 1,2, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 134 (v.1), no. 254, pl. 158, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 67 (v.1), no. 243, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

George Paston, George Romney ... With forty illustrations, Methuen & co., ltd., London, 1903, pp34-35, 190, WA 7718 (LSF) [ORBIS]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Portland Art Museum, Paintings from the collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an exhibition organized 1956 by the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon. , Portland Art Association, Portland, 1956, pp. 24, 72, no. 19, fig. 19, J495 C468 956P (LSF) [ORBIS]

Susan Rather, A Painter's Progess: Matthew Pratt and 'The American School', Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 28, 1993, pp. 173-74, fig. 7, Available online (ORBIS) Also available in hardcopy: N610 A725 (LC)+ Oversize (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Susan Rather, The American school : artists and status in the late-colonial and early national era, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2016, pp. 115-116, 117, fig. 96, N6507 .R38 2016 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Gerhard Charles Rump, George Romney (1734-1802), Zur Bildformder Bürgerlichen Mitte in der Englischen neoklassik , vol. 1, George Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, 1974, v. 1, pp. 93-95; v. 2, abb. 39, Abb. 39, NJ18 R65 R85 1 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Roy C. Strong, The British portrait, 1660-1960, Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991, pp. 226, 227, pl. 210, ND1314 B743 1991 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790, Yale University Press, New Haven London, 1994, p. 307, fig. 240, ND464 W37 1994 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Richard Wendorf, The literature of collecting & other essays, Boston Athenaeum and Oak Knoll Press, Boston, MA New Castle, DE, 2008, pp. 150-1, fig. 4-I, AM235 .W46 2008 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Alice Winchester, English Conversation Pieces from the Mellon Collection, Antiques, vol. 83, April 1963, p. 447, NK1125 A3 v. 83 OVERSIZE (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p. 42 (v.1), no. 155, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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