King Lear, Edgar and the fool graphite on paper 45 x 41cm (17 11/16 x 16 1/8in).
PROVENANCE: with H. P. Evans, Bath Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, acquired 1912
EXHIBITED: London, National Portrait Gallery, George Romney, 2002, illus 47, p. 104
Romney here returns to his favourite Heath Scene in King Lear. The windswept figure of Lear in the centre embraces the half-naked Edgar, while at the right a somewhat virile Fool gestures presumably towards the Duke of Gloucester arriving with his torch. Bizarrely, the drawing was acquired in 1912 as Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand in 'The Tempest'.
While in Rome Romney made several large and carefully worked studies in black chalk of the heads of Lear and Edgar which are close in appearance, the Edgar, particularly, to their more loosely drawn equivalents in the present work. It has been suggested that he based the studies of Edgar on the pursuing angels in Raphael's fresco of The Expulsion of Heliodorus from The Temple in the Vatican stanze and that, from their resemblance to a contemporary head by Fuseli probably derived from the same source, the two men were working together. Whether the present drawing was itself carried out in Rome is open to question. The coarse paper and the fold down the centre of the sheet, suggesting that it has been transported, argue in favour. But the noticeable stylistic discontinuity between the lightly drawn upper part of Edgar and the features of Lear on the one hand and the much bolder and denser style of the rest of the drawing may suggest that Romney began it in Italy but developed it only when he was back in London. He was tackling other Lear subjects, again probably adumbrated in Italy, at the same time.
We are grateful to Alex Kidson for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.