Mitt Romney’s family has been a prominent presence in business, politics and Mormonism, since the mid-19th century, but the first famous Romney rose to prominence in the art world. George Romney, Mr. Romney’s great great great great grandfather, was a renowned British portraitist whose work hangs in museums around the world including the Louvre and the Met.
According to a biography written in 1901 by Rowley Cleeve, George Romney was born in 1734 in Kendal, a small town in England’s Cumbria County to parents who were ”in humble cricumstances.” His father, who made furniture, had him taken out of school when he was 11-years-old because, in Cleeve’s words, “he made very slight progress with his studies, and preferred to spend his time in sketching or in copying the pictures that he found in papers or books.”
After leaving school, George Romney eventually became apprenticed to a local painter named Steele. He met his wife, Mary Abbott, in 1756 after Steele “eloped with a young lady who was one of his pupils.”
“Romney had to assist him in his arrangements. They were difficult and involved a vast amount of trouble and exposure to night air at a time when the youth was far from strong. … Romney fell ill of a fever and was nursed by a domestic servant named Mary Abbott. With this young person the artist fell violently in love and on recovering from his illness married her,” Cleeve wrote.
In 1767, George went to London to further his art career. He stayed there for the next 37 years and during this time, Cleeve says, he didn’t see his wife “with the exception of brief visits in 1767 and 1779.” Mr. Romney also journeyed to France and Italy where he had an audience with Pope Clement XIV who allowed him to “have scaffolding specially erected in the Vatican that he might study the works of Raphael.” He eventually returned to his family “as an invalid” and his wife “received him lovingly and nursed him with great devotion till his death” in 1802.
Check out our slideshow to see examples of George’s paintings.