John Opie - Portrait Painter

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The Death of Archbishop Sharp - John Opie
John Opie, 1797

John Opie was born in St Agnes, near Truro in 1761. From an early age he showed a talent for drawing, in addition to a more general academic excellence. He soon established a local reputation for portrait painting and was discovered by John Wolcot who introduced him to London as “The Cornish Wonder”. This nickname was mainly due to the fact that he was completely self-taught.

He was an instant success with the fashionable world and produced many portraits. Much of his later work was of an historical nature. Opie’s portraits and other paintings were originally in a style similar to that of Rembrandt. “The Assassination of James I” and “The Murder of Rizzio” were two works of note. The second of these facilitated his election to the Royal Academy, where he became a professor of painting in 1805. He also produced five history paintings for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.

Opie also became well-known as a writer on art through various biographies, lectures and other works. Many of these were published in 1809, after the death of the artist in 1807. Several galleries in Cornwall display examples of work by John Opie.