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DMA Painting Gets a New Name Attached to It

by Jerome Weeks 8 Sep 2010 1:24 PM

An 18th-century portrait that the Dallas Museum of Art has had for more than 30 years gets attributed to a different artist — a British painter, it turns out, not an American.


The Dallas Museum of Art has announced that an 18th-century portrait that’s been in the museum’s collection since 1987 — when the artist who painted it was unknown or believed to be an American — has now been attributed to the British painter, George Romney. The re-attribution of Young Man with a Flute happened because British art dealer Phillip Mould visited the DMA in 2000 and suggested that it might be the work of Romney (1734-1802), who had painted similar likenesses, was a contemporary of Thomas Gainsborough and was an important but nowadays a relatively unknown figure in  period painting. (A 2002 exhibition of Romney’s work called him “British Art’s Forgotten Genius”).

Romney became so prominent as a portraitist he was considered the chief rival of Sir Joshua Reynolds — who would only refer to the younger artist as “the man in Cavendish Square” (where Romney lived). In fact, Lord Thurlow, a major Tory politician, declared, “There are two factions in art, and I am of the Romney faction.”

Ironically enough, at the DMA, the Romney now hangs next to Portrait of Miss Mary Pelham — by Joshua Reynolds.

It was Olivier Meslay, the DMA’s new curator of European and American art, who eventually contacted Alex Kidson, the leading expert in Romney’s work — and Kidson confirmed the attribution.

Romney may not be that well-known, but Romney has long stuck in my own brain — for  the singular reason that he has the same name as the once-governor of Michigan who was a candidate for the presidency in 1968  (he’s Mitt Romney’s father). As a young lad growing up in Detroit and reading art history, I thought it strange that our Mormon-Republican governor seemed to have been christened for a British portrait painter.

Who, actually, was a very distant relation.

The full release follows.

Dallas Museum of Art Discovers

George Romney Painting in the Collections

Work of Art Received in a 1987 Bequest Now Reattributed to 18th-Century

English Painter George Romney Based on Research by a Team of British Art Experts

DALLAS, TX, September 8, 2010 — The Dallas Museum of Art announced today the reattribution of the painting, Young Man with a Flute, to the artist George Romney. The work of art has been in the Museum’s collections for nearly 25 years and entered it in 1987 as part of a bequest of Mrs. Sheridan Thompson. At the time of the painting’s acquisition, the artist was unknown but the painting was thought to be by the American colonial era portrait painter Ralph Earl.

Then in 2000 on a visit to the Museum, British art dealer Phillip Mould suggested that the painting might be the oeuvre of English painter George Romney (1734–1802) but was not able to provide further evidence to the DMA. Ten years later, and soon after his arrival at the DMA from the Louvre, Olivier Meslay, Senior Curator of European and American Art and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art, viewed the painting in the art storage area, learned of Mould’s earlier suspicion, and wanted to know more. He showed the work of art to another visiting expert, Piers Davies, Specialist of Old Master Paintings with Christie’s, New York. Davies, like Mould a decade earlier, immediately noted the likeness of Young Man with a Flute to the style of similar portraits by Romney from around the same time period, 1760–1770.

Meslay then contacted the internationally renowned Romney expert Alex Kidson, Consultant Curator with the National Museums Liverpool. Kidson analyzed the painting and determined the painter to be George Romney, a key figure in 18th-century British art. Romney was a contemporary of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough and after Reynolds’ death in 1792 Romney became the most famous portrait painter in England.

Young Man with a Flute is on view in the DMA’s European art galleries on Level 2, alongside a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Museum’s collections, Portrait of Miss Mary Pelham.

“The confirmation that Young Man with a Flute is by George Romney, one of Britain’s most famous portrait painters, is an exciting moment for the Museum and demonstrates the importance of supporting curatorial research,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “To make this discovery after more than 25 years as an ‘unknown’ work in our collections is as thrilling as if we had just made a new acquisition.”

Young Man with a Flute is a very moving painting, done by Romney in the first half of his career, and in it, you can really see how the artist’s exquisite skills, which will bring him enormous acclaim later in life, are developing,” added Senior Curator Meslay. “It is an interesting find that truly demonstrates the depth of the DMA’s collections.”

About the Painting: Mrs. Sheridan Thompson purchased Young Man with a Flute in 1961 from Hirschl & Adler Galleries in New York. Prior to that, the gallery had purchased the painting from a gentleman in 1960 who resided in London. It is unknown when the painting was wrongly attributed to Ralph Earl, but Earl did study in London for a number of years and focused in portrait paintings.

About George Romney: George Romney was born in the area now known as Cumbria, England, in 1734 to the son of a cabinet maker. He studied for a number of years with Christopher Steele, a portrait artist from York, before moving to London. In 2002, a major international exhibition commemorating the bicentennial of George Romney’s death, George Romney 1734–1802: British Art’s Forgotten Genius, was organized by The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.  After its presentation there, the exhibition traveled to The National Portrait Gallery, London and The Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California.

About the Dallas Museum of Art

Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs are its encyclopedic collections, which encompass more than 24,000 works and span 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Established in 1903, the Museum today welcomes more than 600,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings and dramatic and dance presentations.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

  • It certainly looks like one of Romney’s pieces. They had a wonderful exhibition of his work in Seattle a couple years ago.

  • I didn’t realise that Romney was a contemporary of Sir Joshua Reynolds.