National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Mrs. Alexander Blair George Romney (artist)
British, 1734 - 1802
Mrs. Alexander Blair, 1787-1789
oil on canvas
overall: 127 x 101.5 cm (50 x 39 15/16 in.) framed: 161.3 x 134 x 10.8 cm (63 1/2 x 52 3/4 x 4 1/4 in.)
Widener Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: Britain's Royal Academy of Art in the Late 1700s and Early 1800s
Object 8 of 8

A configuration of linked ovals, this composition rises from the full skirt through a flounced bodice to a wide-brimmed bonnet that frames the sitter's face like a halo. The oval back of the chair and the pose of the raised wrist echo the flowing curves.

The equally masterful color scheme of variations on black, white, and red is now hard to appreciate because Romney used bitumen. A pigment derived from coal tar, bitumen gives lush depth to shadows, but rapidly decays, causing cracks to appear in the dark areas.

The sheet music and the books provide clues to Mary Johnson Blair's personality. She was a prominent London hostess with acquaintances in musical, literary, and aristocratic circles. The crimson drapery and fluted column are Grand Manner attributes of classical culture. Romney's studio appointment books indicate that Mrs. Blair sat seven times between 13 April 1787 and 4 May 1789.

Ironically, Romney's lifelong ambition to create monumental scenes from history and literature was thwarted by his own rejection of London's Royal Academy, England's only major avenue for exhibiting or selling such narrative pictures. Instead, he achieved fame and fortune for doing what he liked least—creating likenesses. Romney muttered about "this cursed portrait-painting! How I am shackled with it!"

Full Screen Image
Artist Information
Conservation Notes

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