Le Fleming painting by Romney
November’s Object of the Month is a recent acquisition that was added to our collection at the end of last year – a painting of Sir Michael le Fleming (1748-1806) by artist George Romney (1734-1802).
The painting is of Sir Michael le Fleming, 4th Baronet of Rydal Hall and the MP for Westmorland from 1774 until his death in 1806. He was a member of the aristocratic le Fleming family, and he inherited his father’s baronetcy and estate at Rydal in 1757 at the age of nine. In this portrait, le Fleming wears his military uniform, as the lieutenant colonel of the Westmorland Militia.
His ancestor, Sir Thomas le Fleming, built the first Rydal Hall on St John’s Knott in 1409. This is a small mound and wood, which is next to the Ambleside Cricket Ground today. However, this site eventually became too small for the family, so a new hall was built in the present location in 1600. While Sir Michael owned the hall, he built the Georgian south wing in 1789, which is the modern front of Rydal Hall.
This portrait was painted by the artist George Romney between 1779 and 1780, and Sir Michael paid 18 guineas for the artwork.
Romney was born in 1734 in Dalton-in-Furness (then in Lancashire) and grew up near Barrow-in-Furness. He began his creative career by learning the craft of cabinet making in Dalton and Lancaster but pivoted to painting when he apprenticed for local artist Christopher Steele of Kendal in 1755. He set up his own studio in Kendal in 1757.
Romney moved to London in 1762, spent time in Rome in the 1770s, and painted many prominent society figures of the late eighteenth century. His muse was Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson, who was the subject of 60 Romney artworks. Romney returned to Cumbria two years before his death in 1802.
The Armitt acquired this painting in November 2022, with help from the Museum Association Beecroft Bequest and the Friends of the Armitt. It first emerged in 2016 in a US private collection which allowed it to be identified as the rightful portrait of Le Fleming, after some misidentification on another work had taken place.
The Armitt is now exploring Sir Michael le Fleming’s story further to understand more about his connections and activities in and around Cumbria.