OPIE, John
(b. 1761, St Agnes, d. 1807, London)


English painter. He was born in a tin-mining district in Cornwall, where his father was a mine carpenter. He was launched in London in 1781 as the 'Cornish Wonder', an untutored natural genius, by John Wolcot, doctor, sometime pupil of Wilson, satirist ('Peter Pindar') and skilful impresario. The young Opie's talent lay in painting peasant types in strong chiaroscuro, and he is best with old people and children, whom he treats with Rembrandtesque effects of light. His large compositions for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, popular in engravings, were influential in establishing the costume-history piece, but once his Tenebrist vision was smothered by elegant face-painting, he declined into insipidity.

His second marriage, in 1798, to the novelist Amelia Alderson led to his painting more literary subjects. From 1799 he had a studio in Norwich. He became a Royal Academician in 1787, was made a Professor at the Royal academy in 1805 and gave a series of lectures, published posthumously in 1809.