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Canines of The Art World: George Romney’s “Lady Hamilton as Nature” (1782)

This is currently the second oldest on my list of favorite paintings featuring dogs, and I must say this was quite an interesting one to read into. While I chose this painting because I loved the funny way that the artist depicted the dog in her arms, the lady in the painting actually kinda steals the spotlight due to her backstory.

Canines of The Art World: George Romney’s “Lady Hamilton as Nature” (1782)

Everyone knows her as Emma Hart (or Hamilton once she was married), but her real name was originally Amy Lyon. She was born in England, and raised by her mother and grandmother (her father had died when she was two months old).

She had a very busy career, working many types of positions as a maid, actress, model, dancer, and even for this weird doctor at his “Temple of Health and Hymen” (in case you haven’t guessed it from the name, he was a quack). 

Eventually she met Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh, who first hired her, then took her in as a mistress, but once he had his fun with her, he pretty much just ignored her unless she came in handy for entertaining his friends (there’s a popular rumor that he made her dance on the table naked for their entertainment when she was working for him). She later got pregnant with his daughter, but also met and became pretty close with Charles Francis Greville, who also wanted to take her in as a mistress, but basically said “you gotta ditch the kid”…Yeah, not sure how that conversation went down exactly, but her daughter went to live with great-grandma, and Amy went to live with Charles.

Now Charles had some very interesting rules, and I don’t know what I should be thinking about them. While he seemed to have helped her learn about and fit in with higher society, he also just really controlled a lot of her life, not letting her go out much, making her wear simple clothes, and not really wanting to show her to his friends until she became a bit more of a proper lady. But he did let her mother come to live with her, so points for that I suppose?

But while I don’t have a whole lot of respect for Charles, he was the one who introduced her to George Romnney, who became obsessed with her beauty and painted over 60 paintings of her, including the one in this post. 

Now in talking about Emma, I think I’ve digressed quite a bit from the original subject which was the painting of the dog. I wish I had a bit more story on it, but given George’s obsession with Emma, and the title of the painting being “Lady Hamilton as Nature”, I think he just used the dog as a kind of prop. But, that doesn’t make it any less cute!

I won’t keep you any longer on this post, but Emma has a lot more to her story, including getting married, meeting Marie Antoinette’s sister, having a famous affair that even her husband seemed to support, and a lot of other crazy happenings. I really recommend looking into it if you get a chance 🙂

Till my next post, have a fantastic time!

Anna Ito

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