Mrs. Billington (1765/1768-1818) as Saint Cecilia

1787–88
George Romney (English, 1734–1802)


Dimensions

127.7 x 101.9 cm (50 1/4 x 40 1/8 in.)

Accession Number

23.397

Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

Not On View

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Paintings

Elizabeth Weichsel, “the ablest singer of her day and the richest professional woman in Europe,” married John Billington, a double bass player, in 1783. The most celebrated diva of the age, she was also among the most notorious, rumors being rife about her scandalous private life. Romney depicts her as Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music, probably at the singer’s request. She seems never to have collected the painting, and the fact that she commissioned the same subject from Reynolds the following year suggests she did not like Romney’s version.

Provenance

1802, upon the artist's death, by inheritance to his son, the Rev. John Romney (b. 1758 - d. 1832); April 27, 1807, Romney sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, lot 110, bought in; May 9, 1834, posthumous Romney sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, lot 86, to "Jonson," evidently on behalf of John Romney's daughter, Elizabeth Romney (d. 1893), Whitestock Hall, Colton, England [see note 1]; May 25, 1894, Elizabeth Romney estate sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, lot 194, sold to Agnew, London, for £945 (Agnew stock no. 6883); 1894, sold by Agnew to Colonel James Price [see note 2]; 1895, sold by Price's executors back to Agnew (stock no. 7336); 1895, sold by Agnew to Thomas Henry Ismay (b. 1837 - d. 1899), Liverpool, England and then returned by Ismay to Agnew (stock no. 7404); 1895, sold by Agnew to Wallis and Son, London; October 2, 1895, sold by Wallis and Son to M. Knoedler and Co., London and New York (stock no. 7944); March 10, 1896, sold by Knoedler to Clara Bertram (Mrs. David P.) Kimball (b. 1838 - d. 1920), Boston; 1923, bequest of Mrs. Kimball to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 6, 1923)

NOTES:
[1] According to a letter from Christie's, London, to the MFA (December 17, 1985), in the MFA curatorial file. [2] Information about Agnew's sales and re-acquisitions of the painting from 1894 to 1895 is taken from the Getty Provenance Index (Provenance of Paintings Record 11366).

Credit Line

Bequest of Mrs. David P. Kimball