Designs from Fancy: George Romney's Shakespearean Drawings

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Designs from Fancy: George Romney's Shakespearean Drawings part of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened November 10, 1998 and closed March 20, 1999. The exhibition catalogue can be purchased from the Folger Shop.

George Romney (1734-1802) was one of the most successful English artists of the late eighteenth century. Born in the north of England, where he was apprenticed briefly to Christopher Steele, Romney was essentially self-taught. In 1762 he left his family behind in Kendal and moved to London to seek his fortune there. Hard-working and adept at capturing a flattering image of his sitters, Romney quickly established a lucrative practice as a portrait painter. He had a fierce ambition, however, to achieve fame in the more highly regarded art of history painting, a category that included subjects from literary, religious, and mythological sources as well as from history.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is fortunate to possess nearly 500 drawings by George Romney, the second largest collection of Romney drawings in America. The Folger collection has remained little known since very few of the drawings have ever been reproduced or exhibited—a situation this exhibition sought to address.

Romney has long received recognition as a major British artist of the eighteenth century, but his drawings have remained virtually unknown. In this country it is only during the past few decades that they have begun to be exhibited and studied. This exhibition offered a new opportunity to discover the appeal of George Romney's draftsmanship, their charm, and their distinctive personality.


Early Career

Neoclassical Phase

Shakespearean Subjects


Henry VI, part II

The Tempest

As You Like It

Interest in the Supernatural

Religious Subjects