The story of George Romney's fascination with Emma Hart, later Lady Emma Hamilton, and famous lover of Horatio Lord Nelson, is well known. They first met in 1782 when the artist's friend and collector Charles Greville brought Emma to Romney's Cavendish Square studio to sit for the portrait which was engraved as Nature (Frick Collection, New York). She soon became his muse, the model and inspiration for dozens of fancy portraits and depictions of literary and mythological heroines.
In this picture, she is cast as Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest, pleading with her sorcerer father, Prospero, to save the lives of the shipwrecked mariners:
If by your art my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them. (I, ii)
A number of such studies are recorded, relating to a large-scale composition of The Tempest that Romney executed for Boydell's celebrated Shakespeare Gallery. Emma sat for the sketches shortly before her departure to Naples in March 1786. The Boydell composition was the largest painting Romney ever completed, though only a few fragments now survive.