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John Opie (16 May 1761 - 9 April, 1807)[1] was a British historical and portrait painter.

Birth and early life

Opie was born at Trevellas, St Agnes near Truro in Cornwall. His interest in drawing developed early but he was also academically inclined. By the age of twelve he had mastered Euclid and opened an evening school for arithmetic and writing. Before long he became known locally for his portraits; and in 1780 he started for London, under the patronage of Dr Wolcot (Peter Pindar). Opie was introduced as The Cornish Wonder, a self-taught genius. He caused a sensation; the carriages of the wealthy blocked the street in which the painter resided, and for a time his portraits were very sought after, but this level of popularity did not last long.
Winter's Tale, Act II, scene III, from a painting by John Opie commissioned and prepared for engraving by the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.

He then began to work on improving his technique, meriting the praise of his rival James Northcote--"Other artists paint to live; Opie lives to paint." At the same time he sought to supplement his early education by the study of Latin, French and English literature, and to polish his provincial manners by mixing in cultivated and learned circles. In 1786 he exhibited his first important historical subject, the Assassination of James I, and in the following year the Murder of Rizzio, a work whose merit was recognized by his immediate election as associate of the Royal Academy, of which he became a full member in 1788. He was employed on five subjects for John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery; and until his death, his practice alternated between portraiture and historical work.

Opie's work is generally regarded as verging on crude, but original and individualistic. Opie is also known as a writer on art by his Life of Reynolds in Wolcot's edition of Pilkington, his Letter on the Cultivation of the Fine Arts in England, in which he advocated the formation of a national gallery, and his Lectures as professor of painting to the Royal Academy, which were published in 1809, with a memoir of the artist by Amelia Opie, his widow.

He was buried at St Paul's Cathedral, in the crypt next to Joshua Reynolds, as he had wished.[2]


1. ^ Hendra, Viv (2007). The Cornish Wonder, A Portrait of John Opie. Truro: Truran. pp. 3, 165. ISBN 9781850222163.
2. ^ Hendra, Viv (2007). "The Funeral". The Cornish Wonder - A Portrait of John Opie. Truro: Truran. pp. 173. ISBN 9781850222163.

* This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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