George Romney portrait of Sir Michael le Fleming at the Armitt
The Armitt: Museum, Gallery, Library in Ambleside exhibits a variety of important and significant objects, artworks, books and documents about the people of Ambleside and the surrounding Lake District world.
In 2022, the museum acquired a portrait of Sir Michael le Fleming, 4th Baronet of Rydal Hall, painted by George Romney thanks to support from the Beecroft Bequest.
George Romney (1734-1802) was an English portrait and history painter, who was a fashionable artist of his day, painting many leading political and social figures. Born in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, he began his career in Kendal, moving to London in 1762.
Romney returned from a two-year visit to Rome in 1775, and his career thereafter went from strength to strength. Romney went back to Cumbria in the last two years of his life. He remains the most significant British artist to be associated with the Lake District.
The sitter of the portrait is Sir Michael le Fleming, the owner of the Rydal Hall estate, about two miles north of Ambleside. Le Fleming was the MP for Westmorland from 1774 until his death in 1806 and is seen in the painting in the uniform of the Westmorland Militia. He sat for this portrait in 1779 and 1780, paying Romney’s 18-guinea fee in March 1781.
The portrait is currently on display in the first gallery of the museum which explores stories and histories of the area. The Armitt plans to explore Michael le Fleming’s story further, as well as his family connections.
Although the museum is not aware of any connections that Rydal Hall or the Le Flemings had directly with colonial networks or actions, there is evidence of links to the East India Company and to the military, as is apparent from the regalia that the sitter is wearing.
Mostly, the Le Flemings played roles in local and national politics, as well as in ecclesiastical settings. The acquisition of the portrait provides an opportunity for reinterpretation and the drawing together of other material in the collection that would otherwise be difficult to display.
Faye Morrissey, manager and curator for the Armitt, said: “This work has quite an interesting story. It emerged in 2016 in a US private collection which allowed it to be identified as the rightful portrait of Sir Michael le Fleming. Before this, in a recently published catalogue raisonée by Alex Kidson, another picture had been illustrated in its place. Now, the author acknowledges the error and the work we have has been given the correct identification.
“We are delighted, therefore, to have had the support from the Beecroft Bequest to acquire a Romney artwork for the museum’s collection, particularly as the sitter is of local significance. We are looking forward to sharing more about Sir Michael le Fleming with visitors as research unfolds and to linking with other partners, such as Rydal Hall and the Romney Society, to further our knowledge and partnerships.”