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and, being asked what he was think- tention : he thought he had powers ing of, he replied, “ he was thinking for landscape, and indeed he bas been he could draw a butterfly, it he were constantly heard to say, that had he to try, as well as Mark Oates.” He devoted his talents to that branch of attempted; he succeeded; and felt, the art, he would have been still inore perhaps, the first throb of exultation. eminent than he is. The following After this, he copied the picture of a anecdote relating to this period of Farm Yard, which hung in the par- Opie's life serves, in some measure, lour of a neighbouring lady, and suc- to confirm this idea; it has never be. Cessively several other pieces. fore been given to the public.
About this time his talents became Dr. Wolcot used to take young known to a gentleman, who has since Opie with him into the fields, to give rendered himself eminently conspi- biin an idea of landscape and the cuous in the literary world; we mean aerial perspective. One evening when Dr. Wolcot, better known by his cog- they were at Falmouth they walked nomen of Peter Pindar. The Doctor into the country, near Pendentis was practising as a physician at Truro, Castle; it was a calm summer's evenand, being upon a professional visit at ing; the sea at a distance added to St. Agnes, he happened to fall into the beauty and majesty of the scene; conversation upon the subject of our young artist contemplated it in sipainting with a lady there, who point- lence; he listened to the instructions ed to a well known print of a farm of the Doctor; and the next day yard, and informed him that there drew the whole from memory. It was a sawyer's lad in the parish who was finely coloured, and equal to any greatly adnuired that picture, and who of our first masters in composition. had copied several tigures from it. Opie was at this time seventeen. Dr. Wolcot then enquired where he His patron, however, thought that worked, and being informed he im- personál vanity would insure him a mediately proceeded to the spot. better prospect of success in portrait There he found young. Opie down in painting, and he therefore urged him a saw-pit, working with his father. to direct all his powers that way. The Doctor called to him, and ques. Opie was a constant inmate with the tioned him about his performances; Doctor, who used to call him up Opie replied, that he painted blazing every morning in summer at three stars! Duke William! King and o'clock, that he might commence his Queen! and Mrs. Nankivell's Cat! labours. The consequence was, that The Doctor requested to see a speci- in a few months he began to reap the men: Opie tucked up his leather fruits of them; for he now painted apron, bounced across the hedge, and half-lengths for five shillings. 'In the soon returned with Mrs. Nankivell's intervals of these pursuits, the Doctor cat, a red lion, and part of a huge devil, taught him the French language; he the monstrous appearance of which endeavoured also to give him some (for, in conformity with the vulgar idea of the classics, but in this he was idea, he was equipped with a tremen- not very successful. We have been dous pair of horns, asses ears, and told thai Opie taught himself the Laenormous goggling eyes) caused a tin language in his latter years. The hearty laugh to the Doctor. He de- German flute too formed part of the sired him, however, to call at his instructions of Dr. Wolcot. He house on the following Sunday. Opie aimed also at giving our artist a little was punctual to the appointment, and exterior polish, by divesting him of his patron provided him with some his rough and clownish manners, but materials for painting, such as brushes, this he found the most difficult of all. colours, &c. These visits were re- Many Chesterfieldian advices were peated, and Dr. Wolcot at length be- bestowed upon the Cornish Stanhope; gan to perceive some signs of genius, he remained, however, to a certain and he now seriously resolved to give degree unaffected by them. He adhim some practicalinstructions. He was vised him also to change his name for some time at a loss to ascertain to from Hoppy (for that is its original ortvhat particular point to direct his at- thography) to the more genteel one
f Opie, aware of the influence even tured genius; that he was an untuf a name in the outset of an active tored artist, and owed every thing to nd ambitious lite. nature. The case is exactly the reOpie now began to be of some con- verse; his first attempts were so rude, equence. His fame increased, and that Dr. Wolcot has been heard to with it increased his prices. He never say, it was a long time before he beentured, however, to make any en- lieved him capable of any thing argement of demand without first higher than to paint signs, &c. One consulting the Doctor, who, in pro- of his earliest attempts was a head of portion as he discovered the increas- the doctor, which, we have heard, ng dawn of his pupil's talents, ad- was most frightfully incorrect. But ised him to fix a higher reward for he was enthusiastic, and this added to hem. He proceeded gradually from perseverance overcame all. half-a-crown to five shillings; from The constant advice of the Doctor ive shillings to seven and sixpence, to his pupil was for him to have two and then to half a guinea: at length ambitions; the first, to reach the head he proceeded to a guinea; but this of his profession; the second, to assist progression of pecuniary emolument his parents, and take his sister from vas not made without niany exclama- servitude. How well he has followed ions on the part of young Opie that the first the world knows; the world e should ruin the county!' also ought to know that his success was equal in the second: He was an affectionate son and brother, and justly offered at the shine of filial duty the first fruits of his labours.
In painting, as in poetry, genius often starts at once to perfection;
Our artist now, however, began co rise into consequence. He bought a horse to go from town to town; he wore a ruffled shirt and a cocked hat, and sacrificed a little to the Graces. Returning home once after an excursion through the country in which he had amassed about and remains afterwards stationary, or twenty guineas, he entered the Doc- sometimes even becomes retrograde. tor's room with manifest exultation, It has been said, that some of Opie's and exclaiming "I shall wallow in pieces which he did while he was in gold!" he actually threw the guineas Cornwall, are equal, if not superior, on the floor and rolled about in them in colouring, to any thing he afterlike a pig. wards executed. But these examples He paid great deference to Dr. are rare, and perhaps have less of Wolcot's instructions. This gentle- truth in them than is commonly man has himself devoted some atten- imagined. Injudicious admiration of tion to painting. Opie used to stand present excellence often leads us to over him when he was at work, and transfer our immediate feelings to exclaim sometimes, "Ah! if I could prior exertions; and seeing through ever paint like you!" But his men- a delusive medium, the accuracy of tor began now to know the real pow- our estimations is problematical. ers of his pupil; and his constant re- The Doctor, pleased with the grow. ply was, "If I thought thou would'st ing excellence of his pupil, now renot exceed me, John, I would not solved to remove him to Exeter, take such pains with thee." For which is usually regarded as the Lonnearly two years young Opie would don of the West of England. Prenever paint a single picture without viously to his departure, nch pains his friend leaning over him to correct were taken to improve his general him as he proceeded, and to give him appearance; to remove the barbarisms confidence in his labours. We men- that yet adhered to him; to give him tion these particulars, which we have a genteel deportment; to clear his from indisputable authority and which tongue from its provincial harshness; have never before been given to the and, in fact, to hit him as far as pospublic, because it has been confidently sible for acting a respectable part upon stated by the friends of Mr. Opie the great theatre of life. It was at and we believe by Mr. Opie himself, this period, we believe, that he changthat he started forth at once a ma- ed his name from Hoppy, which was
conceived to have something vulgar lowing curious note of hand is still in in it, for Opie, the appellation of a the possession of Dr. Wolcot; but genteel family in the duchy of Corn- whether it was given previously, or well. His success in Exeter was com- subsequently to the above, we are not inensurate to his abilities; and every prepared to affirm :thing seemed to point out the metropolis as the proper sphere now for the display of them.
"I promise to paint, for Dr.Wolcot, any picture or pictures he may de mand, as long as I live; otherwise I desire the world will consider me as a d-d uugrateful son of a b-h.
Previously, however, to departing for Loudon, Dr. Wolcot wrote to Humphries, at that time a celebrated "JOHN OPIE." miniature painter, telling him of the This is a curious document, and uncommon powers of young Opie, serves to shew the opinion entertained and of his intention to visit the capi- by Opie of the services rendered him tal. Humphries, probably from jea- by the Doctor. Nor does it appear lousy of the abilities of Opie, replied, that he ever swerved from this volunthat London was overstocked with tary obligation: but the reader will artists; that the chances of his suc- smile when he hears that he always cess were very few; and endeavoured made his friend pay 1s. 6d. for the as far as possible to check the idea of canvas. Such are the eccentricities his establishing himself in London. of men of genius! It is worthy of remark, that Opie, Mr. Opie had not been long in Lon after he became a Royal Academician, dan before his talents rendered him was solicited by Humphries for his conspicuous. Through the recomvote, to assist him towards attaining mendation of Dr. Wolcot, his pictures the same honour. were shewn to Mrs. Boscawen, and About this time, however, (1780), by this lady he was introduced to the Dr. Wolcot himself resolved to visit late Mrs. Delancy. It was she that the capital, for the purpose of essay- procured to our artist the royal notice. ing those talents which have since Having contrived an opportunity for rendered him so celebrated. He and the royal family to see his Old BegOpie therefore set off together; and gar Man,' the painter of that picture being both unmarried, they agreed to was soon afterwards honoured with a make a common purse, into which command to repair to Buckingham their mutual earnings should be put. House. Opie's account of this affair This plan continued for some time, was given, on his return, in a characuntil Opie, from his increasing con- teristical manner to the Doctor, who nexions, finding that he no longer has often been heard to relate it with stood in need of his patron's assist- great humour.
ance, signified the same to him while "There was Mr. West," said John, he was in the country, by letter, and "in the room, and another gentleconsequently dissolved the domestic man. First, her Majesty came in; union. This circumstance, we be- and I made a sad mistake in respect lieve, occasioned a coolness between to her, till I saw her face, and discothe Doctor and Opie, which was vered by her features that she was the never afterwards cordially removed. Queen. In a few minutes afterwards They visited each other; but the his M-y came hopping in; I supwarmth and sentiment of friendship pose," says John," because he did not had expired. It was from this pecu- wish to frighten me. He looked at niary union that arose the insinuation the pictures, and liked them; but he of the Doctor sharing half the profits, whispered to Mr. West,- tell the and, in fact, living upon the labours young man I can only pay a gentleof the man whom he affected to pa- man's price for them. The one he tronize. We believe this accusation bought was that of A Man struck to be false. blind by Lightning; the price given was 10.; and with this John returned to the Doctor full of spirits. His friend, when he heard the story, told him,"Why, John, thou hast only got eight
It does not appear, however, that Opie was deficient in gratitude to his friend and benefactor. We have been informed, that the original of the fol
pounds for thy picture." "Indeed but doubtedly real grace, our artist deemI have tho'," cried John; "for I have, ed affectation; and used often to regot the ten pounds safe in my pocket." ply so to the urgent remonstrances of At this he shewed him the money.- his patron the Doctor. Latterly, however, he acquired more of it; and it is believed, the marked improvement in female portraits in this particular, which he displayed in his latter ef forts, was owing in a great measure to Mrs. Opie, who used to stand over him and endeavour to make him sensible of the true grace of the female form.
Aye," rejoined the Doctor, "but dost thou know that his M- y has got the frame for nothing, and that was worth two pounds." "Damn it, so he has," cried John: "I'll go back and knack at the door, and ask for the frame; d-n it, I will." He was about to proceed, but was dissuaded from it by his friend.
The consequence, however, of this In 1786, our artist was known as royal interview was, that he immedi- an exhibitor at Somerset House; and ately became popular. His door was soon after he aspired to academical thronged with carriages; the nobility honours. He attained, ultimately, to were eager to have their lineaments the rank of a Royal Academician.traced by the hand of the self-taught But the tide of popular favour, which boy from the tin mines in Cornwall. set in so strongly at first, now turned But the ladies soon deserted him.- its current; and we believe that for Opie wanted grace: He could paint many years Mr. Opie scarcely earned the stern features of man; the visage more by his pencil than sufficed to of the midnight assassin; the ferocious an independent and liberal maintecountenance of the warrior; the con- nance. Yet his merit was conspicuous. junct appearance of beggary and de- Dr. Wolcot, breakfasting one morncrepitude; but could not attain to the ing with Sir Joshua Reynolds, shewed power of depicting the soft elegance him one of Opie's pieces: Sir Joshua's and graceful loveliness of the female observation was remarkable-" Why sex. His manner was too harsh and this boy begins where other people rigid; feminine delicacy of character leave off!"" A high compliment, was lost. The ladies soon discovered and the more to be valued, because the this, and transferred their patronage professional testimony of a man who to other artists. Opie was perhaps was himself at the head of the art. too punctiliously accurate to please As soon as Mr. Opie perceived the sex; whatever defects marked the himself advancing in fame and fororiginal, even to the minutest, he tune, he removed from an obscure transplanted to his canvas. This was house in some court, where he lived, doing more than perhaps was wanted: to Great Queen-street, Lincoln's Innthe vanity of those who sit for their Fields, and thence to Berners-street, portraits makes them anxious in gene. Oxford-road. What time his first ral that they should appear something marriage took place we have not better than nature has made them; learned: but it was not felicitous; that art should lend its hand to deco- the lady encouraged a paramour, and rate and adorn. Very few are those the natural consequences were a lawwhom nature has formed so lovelily suit, separation, &c. His second fair, that they can stand the ordeal of marriage was more happy. On the correct and minutely faithful deline 8th of May, 1798, he united himself ation. Opie early erred in this respect, to Miss Alderson, the only child of if error it may be called. While in Dr. Alderson, an eminent physician Cornwall, a Mrs. Daniel, a lady of in Norwich. The lady had, before Truro, sat for her portrait; but she this event, signalized herself by some complained he made her too yellow: poetical productions; but it is the Opie, however, had painted her as works that she has published since she was; and he replied, with his her union with Mr. Opie which have usual blunt sincerity," Will you have elevated her to so reputable a situyourself? If not, I'll go down to Sir ation in the walks of literature. Her Francis Bassett's, and draw one of the Father and Daughter is an affecting graces from Rubens." What is un- and interesting composition: after
this she gave to the world a volume the possession of Dr. Wolcot. This of Poems, which reflect a very con- was among his earliest productions, spicuous lustre on her talents; nor while he was in Cornwall, and is has Mrs. Opie suffered any diminu- esteemed by its possessor as being tion in her reputation by her subse- nothing inferior in expression and oriquent efforts, The Mother and ginality of character to any of his Daughter, and the Tales. We wid subsequent efforts. But it is not, pleasure pay this tribute to her merits; we believe, generally known, that and we do not hesitate to say, that in there exists a portrait of the Karned pathos, in the power of exciting the Mr. Townsend, author of a Journey passions, she has no equal in the lan- through Spain, the Physician's late guage among her contemporaries, Mecum, and the Elements of Theraand perhaps no superior in her pre- peutics, now in the Linnæan Gallery decessors. This is undoubtedly pre- of Dr. Thornton. It was among the eminently her forte-in the delinea- very earliest of our artist's produc tion of character she is less happy, tions. It has on the margin Opie, and particularly in the delineation of pinxit. Et. 17, It equals Remeccentric character: a striking in- brandt in strength of light and shade, stance of this may be seen in her and is besides an admirable likeness. Mother and Daughter. The history of this picture is curious, We wish it were in our power to and has not before been given to the give a complete list of our artist's public. The sister of Opie lived as productions. Every thing relating to a servant with Mr. Townsend. Her a man of genius has a claim upon our brother went to visit her, and excuriosity our feelings interest them- pressed a wish to draw her master; selves in the minutest circumstance she laughed at him; but young Opie respecting him. The following are took some common colours from a some of his principal pieces :house-painter who happened to be employed on the premises, and actually drew the very picture now in Dr. Thornton's possession. The execution, however, is what confers the high value on this picture; it shews the early dawn of a great mind, the radiance of a rising sun.
I. The death of David Rizzio. This appeared at the exhibition, and is considered as his chef d'oeuvre. It is a striking proof of what might have been produced by Opie in the historical line, if the want of sufficient encouragement had not driven him to the necessity of sacrificing to our national vanity, by labouring in the humble but more profitable avocation of a portrait painter.
II. The murder of James I. King of Scotland.
Opie is also to be considered as a literary candidate. In Pilkington's Dictionary is a Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds by him, which is written with sufficient knowledge of his subject, and in a correct and easy style. This was his first literary attempt, and it may be conjectured that it received some corrections from his friend.
III. The presentation in the Tem
IV. Jeptha's vow. The two last were among those painted for Mack- Afterwards he published a letter in lin's edition of the Bible. They are the Morning Chronicle, (since repub conspicuous for boldness of concep- lished in An Inquiry into the retion, and for strength of colouring quisite Cultivation of the Art of Deand effect. sign in England") in which he proposed a distinct plan for the forma tion of a National Gallery, tending at once to exalt the arts of this country and immortalize, its glories. At the establishment of the Royal Institu tion, Mr. Opie was chosen as lecturer on painting. His exertions here, however, neither pleased himself nor his auditory; the former probably
X. An admirable beggar now in was a consequence of the latter. Ils
V. Hubert and Arthur, from Shakspeare's King John.
VI. Juliet in the Garden: a piece conspicuous for great sweetness of delineation.
VII. Arthur's escape from King John.
VIII. Escape of Gil Blas.