GEORGE ROMNEY’S LONDON DEBUT

A Catalogue of the Paintings, Sculptures, Architecture, Models, Drawings, Engravings, &c. now exhibiting under the Patronage of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, at their Great Room in the Strand.

London: Printed by James Harrison … 1763.

4to., pp. 16; a fine copy, disbound.

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First edition, scarce, of the exhibition catalogue for the 1763 exhibition of the Society (now known as the Royal Society of Arts). Founded in 1754, the Society held London’s first exhibition of living artists in 1760. Three years on, the exhibition was the subject of great controversy after George Romney’s canvas The Death of General Wolfe (No. 183 in the exhibition, now untraced) was awarded and subsequently denied the second prize, or ‘premium’, for History painting.

Romney had come to London from Kendal in 1762, ‘and instead of courting patrons he devoted most of his first year to labouring on two unwieldy canvases, The Death of Rizzio (which he destroyed within two years) and The Death of General Wolfe’ (Oxford DNB). Unfortunately, the notoriety brought him by the withdrawal of his prize (Reynolds was thought to have spoken out against the award) brought Romney little more than the work’s sale to the banker Rowland Stephenson and a mollifying special award – the catalogue entry here notes: ‘To this picture was adjudged a bounty (twenty five guineas) this present year’.

Among the other contributing artists are Robert Edge Pine, who was awarded the first-prize for History painting with his Canute the Great reproving his courtiers for their impious flattery, John Mortimer, who took the second prize, the landscape engraver James Mason, the crayon portraitist Katherine Read, and the ‘principal painter in ordinary to his Majesty’, John Shackleton. At the end are listed ‘Miscellaneous Articles’ including Elizabeth Kerr’s tent-stitch of A Bunch of Flowers, and ‘Two pieces of flowers, cut in card’ by Mrs. Anne Gouyn.

ESTC shows 8 locations (BL, PRO, RSA, Bodley, Sackler Library Oxford; Getty, Yale (2), Metropolitan Museum of Art).