George Romney

26 December 1734 – 15 November 1802


George Romney

(Self Portrait, National Portrait Gallery /

If you have ever eaten Kendal Mint Cake, it’s possible you have seen a picture of George Romney and not realised it. His portrait and name have adorned Kendal Mint Cake bars for over a century with Sam T Clarke choosing to name his sweet creation after the famous portrait artist because of his links to the town.

Whilst Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake might be more popular than its namesake today, during his lifetime George Romney was considered one of the most fashionable portrait artists in society.


George Romney was born in Dalton-In-Furness (then part of Lancashire but now part of Cumbria) in December 1734, and was the son of a cabinet maker. He started to learn his father’s trade at age 11, and although he demonstrated a natural flair for woodwork, he soon developed a greater interest in painting. He was fortunate enough to obtain an apprenticeship with a Kendal-based portrait artist, and slowly built up his own reputation as a portrait artist, painting local members of high society. However, it was not until he moved to London in 1762 that he began to achieve recognition for his works. He won competitions whilst there, and gradually became one of the most popular portrait artists within the social circles of the fashionable elite.

Romney wed Mary Abbot in 1756, but the marriage was not a happy one, and when he moved to London in 1762 he left his wife and two children behind in Kendal, whilst still providing them with financial support. He would only return to them in 1799 when he became ill. He died two years later in the care of his wife.


In 1782 George Romney met Emma Hart, who would later become Lady Emma Hamilton. This meeting would be the start of a nine-year partnership where Hart would become Romney’s muse, and define him as an artist. Enraptured by her natural beauty, Romney painted Hart well over 100 times. She posed as figures from various points in history and ancient mythology, breaking away from Romney’s earlier work as a regular portrait artist.

At the time, Romney’s association with Emma Hart, who was regarded as somewhat scandalous thanks to her being mistress to a number of high ranking society members, including Lord Nelson, meant that his status as respectable artist would be diminished. However, the imaginative works he produced with Ms Hart would later inspire other artists, including William Blake.

Links to the Lake District

Cumbrian born, George Romney spent his childhood and early adult life living in the area, first in Dalton-In-Furness, and later Kendal. His wife remained in Kendal throughout the many years that Romney spent in London, and despite their long separation, she nursed him in their Kendal home during the last two years of his life.

Sites of Interest

Romney’s former home in Kendal is now a private residence, but you can see the exterior of the property on Milnthorpe Road where there is a plaque commemorating his life. At Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal, there is a large collection of paintings and sketches by Romney on display.