May 16th John Opie (Birth)




St. Agnes – born John Opie RA (1761 –  1807) was a historical and portrait painter who painted many of the aristocracy, artists and literary people as well as many members of the Royal Family of his day.

The son of a carpenter, Opie showed prodigious mathematical and artistic talent and, by the age of twelve having mastered Euclidean geometry, opened an evening class for poor children where he taught reading, writing and arithmetic.

Apprenticed to a carpenter, he came to the notice of the local physician, Dr John Wolcot who also wrote as the, pseudonymous,  Peter Pindar. Wolcot became Opie’s mentor, bought him out of his apprenticeship and supported him in Truro. 

Moving to London in 1781, Wolcot introduced his ‘Cornish wonder’ to leading artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, who  compared him favourably to Caravaggio and Velazquez.   

One year later, Opie went alone and, having completed a commission for King George III  he painted, at the King’s suggestion, Mary Delany (May 14th) and this resulted in dozens of commissions of the fashionable and rich gentry and aristocrats of London.  Sadly, however, his fame and popularity proved to be transitory and he reverted to his first passion of historical paintings. Elected to the Royal Academy, and also appointed Professor of  Painting  in 1805, he went on to complete at least five hundred portraits and hundreds of landscapes.  Opie died in 1807 and was buried at St Paul's Cathedral, in the crypt next to Joshua Reynolds.



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