Charles Greville (1749-1809) was at the centre of the fascinating story of Emma Hart, George Romney and Sir William Hamilton. The second son of Francis, 1st Earl of Warwick, Greville was appointed Vice-President of the Royal Society and was Member of Parliament for Warwick. A key figure in cultural and aristocratic circles in London at the end of the eighteenth century, he was also painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in circa 1775, and as part of 'The Dilettanti Society' in 1777-78 (D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 2000, no. 768, fig.1140 and no. 511, fig.1237).
The Greville family were introduced to Romney in 1768, and were his first aristocratic patrons. He completed a portrait of Georgiana, Lady Greville, after her marriage to George, Lord Greville (Charles's elder brother) in 1771. The present work seems to have been executed in the 1780s: there are sittings recorded in Romney's 1781-88 Diaries for 'Grenville' on 22 June 1781 and 30 March and 22 April 1782. There are further sittings recorded under 'Greville' on 27 November and 4 December 1781; 16 April and 15 May 1782 and for 'Mr Greville' on 23 April, 22 June, 2 and 15 May 1787. It was also in the 1780s that Amy Lyon, later Emma Hart, entered the lives of both Charles Greville and George Romney. Greville had first met Amy Lyon in 1781 when she was sixteen and living at Uppark House, Sussex, as Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh's mistress. In January 1782, she wrote to Greville on being dismissed, pregnant, from this house, saying: 'good God what shall I dow ... O G what shall I dow, what shall I dow. O how your letter affected me when you wished me happiness. O G that I was in your posesion as I was in Sir H. What a happy girl would I have been ...'
As a result of this plea, Greville invited her to live in his villa in Edgware Row, Paddington Green, with her mother as housekeeper. He farmed out her baby, first with her grandmother and later to a Mr. and Mrs. Blackburn in Manchester, and he supported the child financially. Amy Lyon, who changed her name to Emma Hart during this time, lived with Greville for more than four years and it was Greville who first brought her to Romney's Cavendish Square studio in 1782, where she sat for the artist on 12 April of that year. In late 1783, both Greville and his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, commissioned portraits of Hart from Romney, and from this date onwards she became a regular fixture in Romney's studio. She became his muse, allowing the artist to produce imaginative 'fancy' pictures that were a departure from his regular portraiture. Between 1782-86 Romney produced numerous of paintings and sketches of Emma Hart.
In 1786, partly for financial reasons, Charles Greville sent Emma Hart to live with his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, the ambassador to Naples. Under the pretext of giving her singing lessons, it was initially proposed as a visit of six months, but she never returned to London. She became Sir William's mistress and they were married in September 1791, when she became Lady Hamilton.