George Romney

Mr and Mrs William Lindow

1772

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1391 x 1143 mm
frame: 1801 x 1552 x 83 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1893
Reference
N01396

Display caption

William Lindow (d.1786) was a prosperous merchant at Lancaster. His wife Abigail (1740 - 1790) was the daughter of his business partner Abram Rawlinson. Their overseas trade is suggested by a glimpse of sea and shipping in the background. Romney's account book for October 1772 lists several family portraits painted for Lindow. Among them this one is described as A Conversation of Himself and his Lady. It cost ¿42. The note is particularly interesting, as it demonstrates that this dignified double portrait was considered informal enough to be described as a 'conversation piece', a term normally associated with relaxed domestic ease.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

George Romney 1734–1802

Mr and Mrs William Lindow
1772
Oil paint on canvas
139.1 x 114.3 cmms
Purchased 1893
N01396

Ownership history
Commissioned by Willliam Lindow (1726–1786), Lancaster; his widow, Abigail (née Rawlinson,; 1740–1791), Lancaster; bequeathed to her brother, Thomas Rawlinson; by descent to Sarah Cowell Rawlinson Bevan (1815–91); Christie’’s, London, 28 February 1891, no.67, reported as sold (to '‘Taylor'’) but apparently bought in, as exhibited in 1892 as belonging to ‘‘Miss Bevan’’; Christie’’s, London, 13 May 1893, no.121 (as ‘‘Thomas Lindow, of Lancaster, and his Wife Abigail’’), bought in at £63; sold privately to the art dealer J.J. Wigzell (1829–1899?), London; sold by Wigzell to the National Gallery, London, in 1893; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exhibition history

1892
Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1892 (132).(with the sitters identified as Thomas and Abigail Lindow; lent by ‘Miss Bevan’).

1952
On loan to The Graves, Sheffield, 8 July 1952–17 June 1954.
2002
George Romney 17341802, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 8 February – 21 April 2002; National Portrait Gallery, London, 30 May –18 August 2002; Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino California, 15 September–1 December 2002 (40).

References

1891
'‘Sales'’, The Athenaeum, 7 March 1891, p.318.
1891
'‘The Art Sales of 1891'’, Art Journal, October 1891, p.309.
1892
'‘Old Masters at the Royal Academy'’, The Manchester Guardian, 4 January 1892.
1892
'‘The Royal Academy Winter Exhibition'’, The Athenaeum, 9 January 1892, p.59.

1892
Claude Phillips, '‘Old Masters at the Royal Academy'’, The Academy, 6 February 1892, p.139.
1893
'‘Fine Art Gossip'’, The Athenaeum, 30 December 1893, p.922.
1893
‘Court Circular’, The Times, 19 December 1893, p.9.
1894
Hilda Gamlin, George Romney and his Art, London and New York 1894, p.107.
1896
William Roberts, '‘Romney as an Investment'’, Temple Bar, vol.109, September 1896, p.57.
1900
Edward J. Poynter, The National Gallery, 3 vols, London 1900, vol.3, p.252, reproduced.
1902
Sir Herbert Maxwell, George Romney, London and New York 1902, Appendix I, no.240.
1904
Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, George Romney, London 1904, Appendix I, no.240 (reprinted from Maxwell 1902).
1904
Humphrey Ward and W. Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, 2 vols, London 1904, vol.2, p.95.
1905
Julia de Wolf Addison, The Art of the National Gallery, London 1905, p.304.
1909
Paul G., Konody, Maurice W. Brockwell and F.W. Lippmann, The National Gallery: 100 Plates in Colour, 2 vols, London and Edinburgh 1909, vol. 2, p.144.
1910
Arthur B. Chamberlain, George Romney, London 1910, pp.228, 284–5.
1926
James Bolivar Manson, Hours in the Tate Gallery, London 1926, pp.25–6.
1927
Charles Holmes, Old Masters and Modern Art: The National Gallery: France and England, London 1927, p.171.
1929
James Bolivar Manson, '‘Painting'’, in Roger Fry et al., Georgian Art (1760–1820), London 1929, p.15.
1930
James Bolivar Manson, The Tate Gallery, London 1930, p.26.
1932
W. Roberts, ‘‘Some Early Romneys’’, The Connoisseur, vol.89, June 1932, pp.367–8, reproduced.
1933
C.H. Collins Baker, British Painting, London 1933, p.114.
1934
E. Aria, '‘Fashion and the Painter'’, Fortnightly Review, no.595, July 1916, p.142.
1941
Edgar Wind, ‘‘The Sources of David’’s Horaces’’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.4, April 1941, p.137, reproduced.
1953
Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530–1790, Harmondsworth 1953, p.223.
1974
Gerhard Charles Rump, George Romney (1734–1802): Zur Bildform der Bürgerlichen Mitte in der Englischen Neoklassik, 2 vols, Hidelsheim 1974, vol.1 pp.90–1, reproduced.
1997
Tabitha Barber, ‘‘The Tate’’s Romneys: A Record of Fashion and Patronage’’, Transactions of the Romney Society, no.2 (1997), pp.4–8, reproduced.
1999
Susan Stuart, ‘‘Number One Queen Square: Building and Furnishing William Lindow’’s House 1772–1773’’, Centre for North- West Regional Studies Bulletin, no.13, 1999, pp.46–59.
2000
David Cross, A Striking Likeness: The Life of George Romney, Aldershot 2000, pp.31, 33, reproduced.
2002
Alex Kidson, George Romney 1734–1802, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 2002, no.40, reproduced.
2003
Yvonne Romney Dixon and Alex Kidson, ‘‘Romney Sketchbooks in Public Collections’’, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol.8, (2003), p.55.
2008
Susan E. Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730–1840: Cabinetmakers and International Merchants, A Furniture and Business History, 2 vols, Woodbridge 2008, vol.2, p.40.

The Lancaster businessman William Lindow (1726–1786) and his wife Abigail (née Rawlinson,; 1740–1791) are shown together in front of an open window. William Lindow, visibly some years older than his wife, is seated on a chair to the right, his body turned away from us and his legs crossed: his right arm rests over the back of the chair. His head, turned back towards us, rests on his right hand. Abigail Lindow stands to the left of the composition; she holds a portion of her fullsome skirt up against her waist with her right hand, and rests her left hand on the corner of the chair, so that her left arm crosses and brushes against her companion’’s raised right forearm. Her left hand rest lighting on a small architectural projection, which might be presumed as intended to belong either to the structure of the window or to the chair although neither clearly. The window behind them is a simple opening, with no indication of shutters, window panes, or curtains. The view is an uneventful seascape, rather perfunctorily painted with the slight indication of two ships on the horizon.1

The circumstances of the painting’’s production have been reconstructed from documentary sources by the art historian Alex Kidson.2 The painting is recorded in a bill from the artist and was apparently painted in 1772 after the sitters'’ marriage in December 1771. As Romney was based in London and is not known to have travelled to the north-–west at this time, Kidson proposes that the sitters would have sat for the artist in London. Kidson has noted that there are several related sketches ‘‘of a somewhat diverse character, suggesting that Romney edged towards his final pictorial solution’’ in a sketchbook of the artist held by the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (NMH 109/1916).3 A bill drafted by the artist in October 1772 headed ‘‘Pictures Painted for William Lindow Esqr’’ refers to ‘‘A conversation of Himself and his Lady’’ for a fee of £42, which must be this picture, as well as a whole length of William Lindow (also for £42), and a three–quarter length portrait of ‘‘Mr. Rawlinson’’ (£10). These portraits commissioned from Romney by the Lindows to help decorate their new house, erected in the centre of Lancaster in 1772–3. The pictures were sent to Lancaster on 2 October 1772, to form part of a larger suite of paintings by Romney and new furniture and furnishings by the fashionable Lancaster cabinetmakers Gillows. The commissioned work from Gillows included a heavy and expensive ‘‘Carlo Maratta’’ style frame for the full–length of Lindow by Romney, and other frames, presumably including a matching one for the present picture. Although the Tate painting is in a Maratta frame of the sort produced by Gillows, it is believed to be a late nineteenth century replacement rather than the original of this character that we know had been commissioned by Lindow.4

William Lindow was one of Lancaster’’s leading transatlantic merchants. He was not born into the merchant class, but apprenticed as a mariner and accumulated wealth and prominence working in the Rawlinson’’s shipping business. Writing of Lancaster’’s Atlantic trade in the eighteenth century, Melinda Elder has identified Lindow as a key example of the kind of ‘‘upstart’’ individual who worked their way up into a position of wealth and influence by working within the city’’s more established merchant community (which would include the Rawlinsons).5 Lindow was made a freeman of Lancaster in 1752/3, and was captain of several of Rawlinson’’s “West Indiamen” (trading vessels). He was the their resident ‘“factor’” (trading agent) on the Caribbean island of St Kitts in the 1750s and on Grenada in 1763. Although the Rawlinson’’s transatlantic business did not officially involve the slave trade (at least in part in deference to their Quaker beliefs), and though none of the ships he captained for them were designated as slave ships, Lindow may opportunistically have taken part in the slave trade over these years either under the auspices of the Rawlinson business or under his own steam. He was certainly documented as involved in the slave trade around the time this painting was created: for instance, as precisely as in October 1772, the month that the painting was delivered to his new home in Lancaster, he was listed as a registered owner of a brig, Sarah, which landed 190 enslaved African people at Grenada in the following year. He ; he is also recorded as owning property in the West Indies, where slave labour would have been used.6

William Lindow’’s marriage to Abigail therefore marked his formal incorporation into a well-–established Lancaster business dynasty after a lengthy career abroad which may have involved activities at the fringes of the Rawlinson’’s legitimate business and implicated him in a trade which many in Britain (most notably the Quaker community) found morally repugnant. The marriage created a partnership which subsequently formalised by the creation of Messers Abraham Rawlinson & Sons & Lindow. William Lindow was in his mid-forties–40s at the time of his marriage, which would generally have been considered unusually late for a first marriage, although many mariners only entered matrimony belatedly, for the obvious reason that they would have spent so much of their working life away at sea.7 At thirty-–one at the time of her marriage, Abigail was, too, relatively mature, although the age difference is underscored by Romney’’s attentively descriptive treatment of William Lindow’’s mature features. The present picture was one of a group of portraits created by Romney to help mark this momentous event. In addition to the pictures noted by Kidson, Romney’’s head and shoulder portraits of Abraham Rawlinson and his wife Ellenor Godsalve, commissioned by William Lindow and which similarly descended from him to Sarah Cowell Bevan, are now in Lancaster Maritime Museum.8

Although in modern times Lancaster’’s reputation as a major centre for the business of the slave trade in the eighteenth-–century has been overshadowed by that of Liverpool, Bristol and London, it was the fourth largest slave trading port after these centres. Between 1736 and the official abolition of the slave trade within the British empire in 1807 some 180 slave ships sailed to Africa from Lancaster, and onwards to the Americas carrying many hundreds of men, women and children. The only allusion within the painting to the source of the sitters'’ financial and social standing takes the form of the faintly conceived maritime scene through the window opening. The emphasis, instead, is on the intimate relationship between the two sitters and on conveying a sense of their individual dignity without reference to their professional or business interests. Romney’’s allusion to the picture as a ‘‘Conversation’’ would be a conventional way to referring to a portrait involving more than one sitter, but also highlights the concern with the communication of social intimacy and the performance of social exchanges which characterise domestic portraiture in the eighteenth century.9 Alex Kidson notes that ‘‘Romney conveys affection between them [the sitters] by making their gently brushing forearms the focal point of the work’’s strong rectilinear design’’.10 The bare domestic setting, and Mrs Lindow’’s upright pose, offset to one side of the centre of the composition, provide a strongly geometric element to the composition; the complex folds of her skirts, the slight tilt of her head, and Mr Lindow’’s more convoluted, twisted pose, add elements of complexity. The ruddy features of Mr Lindow and Mrs Lindow’’s plain, impassive features suggest a concern to present the sitters in a prosaic light. However, Mrs Lindow’’s pose evokes classical sculptures, particularly figures of Venus featuring the right arm crossed over the body, the left draped or resting modestly over the pubic area.11 In standing so prominently over her husband in the composition she corresponds to the allegorical figure of the muse, recast as a living individual in several earlier eighteenth century portraits, most notably William Hogarth’’s Garrick and his Wife (Royal Collection, London).12

The incorporation of classical allusion into a composition which presents the intimate social exchange between the sitters in such understated terms, and which makes use of decidedly plain costumes and setting, adds up to a distinctive pictorial approach combining academic ambition and descriptive frankness. The geometrical complexity of Romney’’s design and the restrained colour scheme, together with the explicit reference to classical archetypes, suggest a degree of artistic ambition and a nod towards the generalised and idealising ‘‘Grand Manner’’, the topic of Sir Joshua Reynolds’’ Fourth Discourse, delivered at the Royal Academy in 1771. However, the precise rendering of contemporary costume, and the great concern evinced here with the specificity of the blemished, weather-–worn skin of the male sitter, reveal a contrary tendency towards communicating a sense of particularity which the Grand Manner was meant to be elevated above. For Reynolds:

if a portrait-–painter is desirous to raise and improve his subject, he has no other means than by approaching it to a general idea. He leaves out all the minute breaks and peculiarities in the face, and changes the dress from a temporary fashion to one more permanent, which has annexed to it no ideas of meanness from its being familiar to us.13

Romney maintained a highly successful career without joining the Royal Academy, and without engaging extensively with public exhibitions, which by this time was established as a route through to professional success. The present portrait suggests how his combination of plain naturalism, pictorial ambition, and highly mediated classical allusions could nonetheless prove compelling for some patrons. As noted below, later critics have struggled, however, struggled to come to terms with the relative severity and directness of this portrait.

The portrait was bequeathed by Mrs Lindow to her brother, Thomas Rawlinson, in the absence of any children of her own, and passed down the family by descent to Sarah Cowell Rawlinson Bevan (1815–91) and was put up for auction at Christie’’s, London, on 28 February 1891, no.67. Although contemporary art journalists suggested it had sold successfully on that occasion,14 it must have been bought in as when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892 it was listed as the property of a ‘‘Miss Bevan'’.15 It appeared again at Christie’’s in 1893 (13 May 1893, no.107). It was sold privately by the family to the art dealer John Joseph Wigzell (b. c. 1829–, active 1899), who sold it to the National Gallery in 1893.16

The work already had a significant public reputation before entering the national collection, by virtue of its inclusion of the work at the ambitious Royal Academy winter exhibition of 1892. The picture had drawn comment from a number of contemporary commentators on that occasion, although there was a degree of scepticism about the quality and character of this work. A satirical piece published widely in the local press in 1892 offered an ironic commentary on the picture'’s compressed composition:

One corner of gallery No 111III contains a number of interesting pictures. One, a portrait of Mr and Mrs Lindow, by Romney, produces an amusing effect, certainly not intended by the painter. The lady is standing by her husband, who is seated in a chair with his lefts in knee breeches, she being almost behind him. She is holding up her skirt with one hand, so as to make it seem as though his legs, which are in front, were really hers, clothed, as my cicerone RA expressed it, ‘‘in stockings with grey cotton tops!’’ The effect is most grotesque, and probably not usually noticed – but we laughed heartily at this bit of comic accidental posing.17

The reviewer of the The Guardian commented more briefly that it was ‘‘broad and downright – nay, crude’’.18

The painting’’s subsequent acquisition and display by the National Gallery meant that the work featured prominently in the literature on Romney which flourished in the early years of the twentieth century.19 TheThe Athenaeum reflected the earlier criticisms by stating at the time of its initial display at the National Gallery that the figures ‘‘are a little stiff, and the design lacks animation and purpose’’.20 Nonetheless, the The Times (19 December 1893) proclaimed it ‘‘a capital example of the artist’’s early manner’’ and ‘‘a noteworthy addition to the English department’’. By 1910 Arthur Chamberlain could remark, that ‘‘This picture is too well known to need description’’.21 In 1919, when it was transferred to the Tate Gallery, the specialist art journal, the The Burlington Magazine, proclaimed, that ‘‘In the Lindow portrait he gives us a glimpse of his most personal vision, honest, uninfluenced by academic fashion, inventive as a colourist. Those who see in this portrait of 1772 the best of Romney’’s art, take it all in all, are not wrong’’.22 The picture'’s mixed critical reputation continued, however. In : in 1929 the Tate Gallery'’s Assistant Keeper J.B. Manson identified the work as an important illustration of Romney'’s development, while remarking that '‘it is still a hard and cold statement of facts which the painter has been unable to resolve into harmony'’.23 It was, however, mentioned in Ellis Waterhouse’’s canon-making survey of English painting (1953) as, ‘‘One of the maturest works’’ of the early 1770s, ‘‘in which the paper quality of the folds suggests a blend of the classical with the style of Francis Cotes’’.24 Since that time it has been only intermittently on display at Tate and does not have the public profile it enjoyed at the beginning of the twentieth century, although it was included in the 2002 exhibition dedicated to Romney which appeared at venues in Liverpool, London and San Marino, California.25

A small copy, apparently not by Romney and of a later date, was at auction in London in 1973.26

Martin Myrone
August 2013

Notes

1 On Romney’s characteristically ‘tentative’ treatment of marine backgrounds, with reference to the present painting, see David Cross, A Striking Likeness: The Life of George Romney, Aldershot 2000, p.95.
2 Alex Kidson, George Romney 1734–1802, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 2002 (40).
3 Alex Kidson, draft entry for N01396 prepared for his forthcoming catalogue of Romney’s work (due for publication by Yale University Press, 2014). Thanks you to Alex Kidson for kindly sharing this text. See Yvonne Romney Dixon and Alex Kidson, ‘Romney Sketchbooks in Public Collections’, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol.8, (2003), p.55.
4 Susan Stuart, ‘Number One Queen Square: Building and Furnishing William Lindow’s House 1772–1773’, Centre for North- West Regional Studies Bulletin, no.13, 1999, pp.46–59; Susan E. Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730–1840: Cabinetmakers and International Merchants, A Furniture and Business History, 2 vols, Woodbridge 2008, vol.2, p.40.
5 Melinda Elder, The Slave Trade and the Economic Development of Eighteenth-Century Lancaster, Halifax 1992, pp.118–21.
6 Elder, The Slave Trade, p.121 and n..
7 On the late marriages of transatlantic merchants who, like Lindow, had started out as mariners see David Pope, ‘The Wealth and Social Aspirations of Liverpool’s Slave Merchants of the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century’ in David Richardson, Suzanne Schwarz and Anthony Tibbles, Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, Liverpool 2007, p.174.
8 Kidson notes the documentation pointing to Lindow commissioning the present picture, a three-–quarter length of Abraham Rawlison, and a whole-length of Lindow himself. The three- quarter length may be Kidson, George Romney (17) (Judge’s Lodging Museum, Lancaster).
9 See Kate Retford, The Art of Domestic Life: Family Portraiture in Eighteenth-century England, New Haven and London 2006.
10 Kidson, George Romney, no.40.
11 The figure of Venus Victrix (Florence, Uffizi) may be the closest model. See Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500–1900, New Haven and London 1981, no.91.
12 See Edgar Wind, ‘The Sources of David’s Horaces’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.4, no.3/4, April 1941, pp.124–38 (p.137, reproducedill); Desmond Shawe-–Taylor, Genial Company: The Theme of Genius in Eighteenth-–Century British Portraiture, exhibition catalogue, Nottingham University Art Gallery 1987, p.23; Gerhard Charles Rump, George Romney (1734–1802): Zur Bildform der Bürgerlichen Mitte in der Englischen Neoklassik, 2 vols, Hidelsheim 1974, vol.1 pp.90–1.
13 Robert R. Wark (ed.), Sir Joshua Reynolds: Discourses on Art, New Haven and London 1975, p.72.
14 Both the Manchester Times, 20 March 1891 and ‘The Art Sales of 1891’, The Art –Journall, 1891 pp.308–312 (p.309) state that the picture sold to ‘Taylor’.
15 Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1892 (132).
16 Wigzell is listed in the University of Glasgow database, ‘Exhibition Culture in London 1878–1908’, http://www.exhibitionculture.arts.gla.ac.uk/gallery.php?gid=177.
17 Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, 16 January 1892; The Preston Guardian, 16 January 1892; The Wrexham Advertiser, and North Wales News, 16 January 1892.
18‘Old Masters at the Royal Academy’, The Guardian, 4 January 1892. Similarly, Sir Claude Phillips in The Academy, 6 February 1892, p.139 called the picture ‘'uncompromisingly hard in modelling and outline’'.
19 Including Humphrey Ward and W. Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, 2 vols, London 1904, vol.2, p.95; Arthur B. Chamberlain, George Romney, London 1910, pp.228, 284–5.
20 ‘Fine Art Gossip’, The Athenaeum, 30 December 1893, p.922.
21 Chamberlain, George Romney, p.285.
22 ‘Recent Acquisitions for Public Collections – XIII;, The Burlington Magazine, vol.35, August 1919, p.77.
23 James Bolivar Manson, ‘'Painting’,' in Roger Fry et al, Georgian Art (1760–1820), London 1929, p.15.
24 Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530–1790, Harmondsworth 1953, p.223.
25 Kidson, George Romney (40).
26 Sotheby’s, London, 4 April 1973, no.68, as noted by Kidson, George Romney, p.95 note 3.

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