Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Boy with a Staff c.1785 1785c.

John Opie RA (1761-1807)

Portrait of a Boy with a Staff c.1785, John Opie
Oil on canvas
18th Century
25 x 20 inches 63.3 x 50.6.cm
John Opie was thrust upon the London art scene in 1781 as ''The Cornish Wonder.'' Considered almost unschooled -though in fact trained in a rigorous naturalism by William Wolcot- he struck his elders, most notably Reynolds, with his ability to capture sitters in a plain and unpretentious manner. Playing to his strengths he showed The Schoolroom at his first RA exhibition in 1781, which is still remarkable in the way that it presents its rustic subject with dignity and does not stoop to condescension or genre.

Although he was to enjoy an eminent practice in Society, many of the sitters in his most successful portraits, figures such as Charles James Fox and Samuel Johnson, were men who scorned superficial graces. Opie was most comfortable, though, in portraying the young, as here, where he employs a manner reminiscent of Reynolds in portraying his young model as a shepherd or a herdsman. A curious detail is the subject's strong facial resemblance to the young Reynolds (who was, of course, in his sixties when this painting was executed). It is intriguing to wonder whether this is deliberate, since it would be entirely in character for Opie to be attempting a homage to his master.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.