Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Maria Godsal (1785-1855) 1790c.

John Opie RA (1761-1807)

Portrait of Maria Godsal (1785-1855), John Opie
Oil on canvas
18th Century
28 x 23 3/4 inches 71 x 59 cm
Collection of Leonard Clow Esq.; With MacCleans of the Haymarket; With Spink 1926.
Correspondence between Spink and W. Roberts November 1926 (Archive of the National Portrait Gallery).
The portraits of John Opie are distinguished by their bold characterisation and by an unaffected realism. His work, as here, is rooted in the elegant manner of English portraiture at the close of the eighteenth century, but it also shows a concern with chiaroscuro that is reminiscent of continental masters of the previous century. Opie was on his surest ground when portraying sitters of personal charm or character -as well as when depicting children, whom he invariably frees from the sentimentality of convention. Here we have no doubt that the sitter's shy glance over her shoulder and her suppressed smile suggests an engaging and pleasant disposition, and such is the candour of Opie's approach that there is no suspicion of flattery.

This honest approach to character and likeness that endeared Opie to his portrait sitters also stood him in good stead as a painter of historical and literary subjects. Against the elegant mannerism of Northcote and the - to some contemporaries - unpalatably bizarre creations of Fuseli, Opie's Shakespearean and Biblical illustrations strike a more plausible note. His Assassination of James I of Scotland (RA 1786) and Assassination of Rizzio (RA 1787) won public acclaim and ensured his election to the Royal Academy.

Maria Godsal was the youngest of the three surviving children of Philip Godsal of Iscoyd Park, in what is now Shropshire. With her elder siblings Susannah and Philip Lake she was portrayed by John Hoppner in 1789 in The Godsal Children or The Setting Sun. In 1803 she married William Haslewood, a barrister, at St George''s Hanover Square.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.