George Romney

Mrs Robert Trotter of Bush

1788–9

Artist
George Romney 1734–1802
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 756 x 622 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Alexander Trotter 1913
Reference
N02943

Not on display

Display caption

Ann Trotter posed for this portrait in 1788, the year after her marriage to Robert Trotter, who was subsequently Postmaster-General for Scotland. She sat for the artist in Spring 1788, but it was delivered a year later. 18th-century portraitists would typically only focus on painting the main features of a portrait, particularly the face, during sittings, completing the costume and background subsequently. In this case, there is technical evidence which suggests that Romney rushed the completion of the picture, and changed his mind about painting in the sitter’s right arm, presumably in response to the Trotters’ demands that the portrait be completed.

Gallery label, February 2016

Technique and condition

The portrait of Mrs Robert Trotter of Bush was painted by George Romney in six sittings between 22 April and 18 May 1788. The painting was framed and delivered on 14 March 1789 at a cost of £26 5s.

The support is a standard three-quarter linen canvas measuring 30 inches by 25 inches. The twill canvas is primed with a thin layer of lead white paint.

No underdrawing is visible to the naked eye but, as the x-radiograph reveals, Romney sketched in the broad balance of the composition in fast notational brushstrokes.

The painting is executed in oil and in general thinly painted. The face has a tighter, more controlled use of paint than the costume and landscape. Romney built up the face in a series of thin layers, starting with a base coat of pale red, and following with wet-in-wet modelling in pre-mixed tints of flesh colour. These are worked from pale to progressively deeper shadows. Neighbouring tones are feathered together to create a smooth transition with a softener; a fan-like brush. Final accents of complementary colours are sharp single marks.

The costume and background have a comparatively light touch of descriptive brushwork, with restrained modelling that belies the compositional changes that lie underneath. These are visible in the x-radiograph, and may be glimpsed through the fissures of drying crackle.

Changes to the clothing include a collar, a more modest fichu and the beginnings of a right sleeve. Alterations to the hat and sky are echoed in the pattern of drying cracks. Cracks are related to the application of thin, faster drying paint over thicker layers of slow-drying paint containing Prussian blue. This form of Prussian blue is fugitive. The hat was originally deeper in tone, and the sky generally more blue. For this reason, the painting is shown in lower light levels, which should retard anticipated colour change.

The painting and frame were recently cleaned and restored.

Mary A. Bustin
July 2002



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