“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,”
Amy Lyon, 15 and without family support, thought only of survival. Even so, her life unfolded seamlessly, with all the players coming together for a purpose, one person leading to another and another, each with ascending import. First, it was Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh who hired her for several months as hostess and entertainer at a lengthy retreat at his Uppark country estate. There, she became friends with Sir Harry’s guest, Charles Greville, second son of the Earl of Warwick and MP for Warwick, in the Midlands.
Sir Charles was thirty-two, unmarried, rather plain in appearance, and had limited financial resources. Fascinated by Emma’s effervescent charm, it was not long before he fell in love with her. Within a few short months, she came to live with him as Mrs. Emma Hart. Theirs was a complex relationship. Sir Charles took on the task of turning Emma into a respectable lady; in return, Emma dressed modestly, ate slimming foods, and dutifully followed his lead without protest.
George Romney, the most fashionable artist of the day, met Emma in 1782. It all began when Sir Charles commissioned George Romney to paint his portrait. Sir Charles, ever looking for ways to augment his meagre income, instigated a brilliant plan to make money. Emma would model for George Romney and he would receive a cut of any sale proceeds.
Emma was a natural, thanks to her training in dance and modelling as one of Graham’s “Goddesses of Health.” George Romney was enchanted by Emma’s unequaled talent to move and express moods. Her flamboyant dress and various poses allowed her to reinvent herself into many characters. Emma’s spontaneity was infectious. She would sing, dance and talk, all through the sessions. Artist and model came to trust and rely on each other unreservedly. Their fame spread. With every painting sold, demand grew exponentially. Within one year, Emma was the most sought after model in London.
George Romney had found his muse and his enduring obsession. For the rest of his life, Emma pervaded his paintings and sketches. She was simply irreplaceable.
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend, The brightest heaven of invention…”
William Shakespeare, Henry V