Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Boy 1790c.

John Opie RA (1761-1807)

Portrait of a Young Boy, John Opie
Oil on canvas
18th Century
24 x 20 inches 61 x 51 cm
Opie was known as a prodigy, ''The Cornish Wonder'' after his discovery - apparently untutored in painting yet proficient in a chiaroscuro manner reminiscent of Rembrandt or Ribera- by the poet William Wolcot.

At the insistence of Sir Joshua Reynolds he came to London in 1781. From then his rise was meteoric; he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1782 to 1807, and was made a full member of the Academy in 1788.

Although he could never aspire to the mannered elegance of Reynolds, he has an unquestionable feeling and understanding for the character of straightforward sitters and for children, and it is particularly his treatment of the latter, such as here, which deserves the greatest praise. In ''A School'' 1784 (Loyd Collection), a genre subject of a lesson in a village dameschool, he treats rustic children with an affectionate honesty that is entirely free of sentiment, but not of humour or humanity. In its dignified characterisation this portrait recalls the contemporary ''Master William Opie'' (Tate Gallery, London) which accords a boy of similar age the same grave dignity.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.