Monday, February 17, 2014

"The Cornish Wonder": John Opie

Joshua Reynolds dominated the English portrait painting scene in the 18th century, with Thomas Gainsborough as his most serious rival. That's my 21st century impression, anyhow.

But in those pre-photography days there was plenty of demand for portraits, and Reynolds and Gainsborough could not satisfy it by themselves. There were many other artists at work in that field, some competent, others not so much. One of the fairly competent ones was John Opie (1761-1807) who died young and was buried next to Reynolds in Westminster Abbey, a sign of the esteem he was held in his day.

I sheepishly admit that I was ignorant of Opie until I noticed a portrait by him that was used as the cover illustration for a book published by Barnes & Noble. So I did a little research, turning up biographical information here and here. I also discovered plenty of images of his works on the Internet, a few of which are presented below.

He tended to place his subjects against dark backgrounds, giving his portraits a dramatic quality that probably helped distract from the fact that his drawing was sometimes slightly flawed. That said, Opie was better than most of his competitors.


Self-Portrait - 1785

Self-Portrait - 1805

The Murder of Rizzio - 1787

A Country Girl

Mary Wollstonecraft - c.1797

Elizabeth Searle as Miranda

Portrait of a Young Man

Amelia Opie - 1798


dearieme said...

I can see that he can paint, but why are his subjects so glum? Was it just unfashionable to smile then? A touch of the Mr Darcy's I suppose.

mike shupp said...

Quite good actually. My original thought was that he hadn't mastered the skill of seperating his foreground subjects from their backgrounds, but "The Murder of Rizzio" shows I'm dead wrong -- he was making an artistic choice. So!

I've learned something, and have someone else's work to watch for. Thank you.

lander gallery truro said...

I can recommend THE CORNISH WONDER: A PORTRAIT OF JOHN OPIE by Viv Hendra. OK So I wrote it. Viv Hendra