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John Opie

Epithet: Artist (1761-1807)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: John Opie, also known as ‘The Cornish Wonder’, was born at Trevellas, St Agnes near Truro in Cornwall as the youngest son of Edward and Mary Opie. He showed great talent for drawing and mathematics as a young boy, even opening a night school at the age of twelve for poor children in the neighbourhood. His father, however, apprenticed him to a carpenter instead of encouraging his natural talents. His work eventually came to the attention of local physician and satirist, Dr John Wolcot who recognised Opie's talent and bought him out of his apprenticeship in 1775, insisting that Opie live with him in Truro.

Wolcot provided him with essential tutoring and then moved to London in 1780, sharing a contract for a year, travelling around the county on commission to the leading merchant and banking families of the county. Padstow, Penryn, Penzance, Fowey, and Falmouth were all, in turn, visited, where he was commissioned to paint different studies as well. Sir Rose Price of Trengwainton, for example, having seen some of Opie's pictures of old men and beggars, commissioned him to paint An Aged Beggar as seen on the streets of Penzance.

However, Opie decided to reach out for a solo career at the end of his contract with Wolcot. He was successful, in part due to Wolcot’s promotion of his protegees talents far and wide - and in March 1782 he was commissioned by King George III to paint a portrait of Mary Delaney. In London, even more than being 'The Cornish Wonder' Opie was hailed as the 'English Rembrandt'. From 1782 to 1807 he exhibited at the Royal Academy, receiving many commissions, and first exhibiting his work with the RA in 1782, then in 1787 he painted the Murder of Rizzio, a work which resulted in his election as associate of the RA, becoming full member in 1788. In 1805, he was elected as a professor at the Royal Academy and in 1806 gave a series of four lectures which were published after his death.

Opie married twice, Mary Bunn (December 1782), a young girl whom he had painted, and who he placed second to his work, and in 1798 to Amelia Alderson, a literary personage of merit, who outlived him and came to Cornwall in her own later years to pay her respects to his home country.

Opie died in April 1807 at his home in Berners Street and was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Occupation / profession: Artist

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1761

Place of birth: St Agnes, Cornwall

Date of death: 1807


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