John Opie is considered to be the first Cornish artist of any significance and certainly the first Cornish portraitist of renown. He was the son of a St Agnes carpenter whose portrait he painted when aged only eleven. On leaving school, he was apprenticed first to his father and then to the local saw-pit. While he was there, he was discovered by Dr Wolcott, a Truro physician who was also a satirical poet writing under the name of Peter Pindar and an amateur artist who had been a pupil under Richard Wilson. Dr Wolcott bought him out of his apprenticeship and with the doctor he began a career as a travelling portrait-painter. At 14 he painted his first recorded self portrait. In 1781, Opie and the doctor moved to London where they attracted sitters from the lower end of society, whose sole reason for wishing a portrait done by Opie was for its novelty. Opie became known as 'The Cornish Wonder' and he resented this condescension. He also painted rustic, domestic and historical scenes. In 1806 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy but died the following year. He is buried near Joshua Reynolds in St Paul's Cathedral.
Where to see this painting?
Royal Cornwall Museum
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