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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/237

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Opie
Opie
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appears also to have stayed awhile in Exeter, and at the end of 1780 the two settled in London. The doctor, who claimed to have 'lost an income of 800l. to 400l. a year by the change of scene, entered into a written agreement, by which it was agreed the two should share the joint profits in equal divisions.' The plan lasted for a year, 'but at the end (Wolcot writes) of that time my pupil told me I might return to the country, as he could now do for himself.' Though their relations were never so cordial after this, their intercourse was maintained for many years, and Opie contrihuted the life of Reynolds to Dr. Wolcot's edition of Pilkington's 'Dictionary,' which appeared in 1798. It was not till Opie*s second marriage that their estrangement was complete; Mrs. (Amelia) Opie thoroughly disliked the doctor. Yet Wolcot never attacked Opie in print, though he is said to have complained privately of his ingratitude; and all that Opie is reported to have said when any one spoke of the doctor is: 'Ay, in time you will know him.'

Wolcot, in working for his 'partner,' was no doubt working for himself also, but his services to Opie were inestimable. He noised his genius abroad, and on the young artist's arrival in London in 1781 he introduced him to artists and patrons, and showed about his pictures. The doctor had earned the gratitude of Mrs. Boscawen, widow of Admiral Boscawen [see Boscawen, Edward], by some verses he he had written on the death of her son, and he made use of her interest to introduce Opie to the court. This happened before March 1782, and George III bought one of Opie's pictures, and gave him a commission for a portrait of Mrs. Delaney (now at Hampton Court). He also received commissions to paint the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Lady Salisbury, Lady Charlotte Talbot, Lady Harcourt, and other ladies of the court. During the spring of 1782 Opie's lodgings at Mr. Riccard's, Orange Court, Castle Street, Leicester Fields, were crowded with rank and fashion every day, and the 'Cornish wonder' was the talk of the town.

Sir Joshua Reynolds gave Opie advice and encouragement, and was surprised at the natural power shown in his paintings of a 'Jew' and a 'Cornish Beggar.' When Northcote returned from abroad in the summer of 1780, Reynolds said to him: 'Ah! my dear sir, you may go back; there is a wondrous Cornishman who is carrying all before him.' 'What is he like?' said Northote, eagerly. 'Like? Why, like Caravaggio and Velasquez in one.'

In 1780 a picture of him was exhibited in London at the Incorporated Society of Artists. This work is described in the catalogue as 'Master Oppey, Penryn; a Boy's Head, an Instance of Genius, not Inning seen a picture.' As Mr. Claude Phillips, in his article on Opie in the 'Gazette des Beaux-Arts' (1892, p. 299), has pointed out, this Master Oppey is clearly the same as John Opie, the future academician. In Redgrave's 'Dictionary' he is treated as a different person, and the place and date of his death are given as Marylebone, 26 Nov. 1785. The confusion is probably due to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1785, pt. ii. 1008), which contains an entry of the death of John Opie at that place and date; but it is plain from the context that the person erroneously supposed to be dead is none other than Dr. Wolcot's protégé, the one and only 'Cornish wonder.'

In 1782 Opie began to exhibit at the Royal Academy, sending 'An Old Man's Head' and 'An Old Woman,' and three others, none of which are now traceable. In 1783 he exhibited 'Age and Infancy' and 'A Boy and Girl,' with three portraits, one of which has been identified as that of William Jackson of Exeter, the organist and composer. Dr. Wolcot, in his 'Lyric Odes,' 1782, introduced a sonnet to Jackson, with these lines referring to the painter:

Speak, Muse. Who formed that matchless head?
The Cornish boy, in tin-mines bred,
Whose native genius, like her diamonds, shone
In secret, till chance gave them to the sun.

Opie's first cares in his new prosperity were to surround his mother with comfort, and to provide himself with a wife. On 4 Dec. 1782 he married Mary Bunn at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. She was a daughter of Benjamin Bunn of St. Botolph's, Aldgate, who combined the business of a solicitor with that of a money-lender. The match was unhappy. In 1795 the lady eloped with one John Edwards, and in the following year Opie obtained a divorce. Meanwhile his sudden popularity waned. But he had not allowed his sudden elevation to turn his head, and, realising that his popularity was due to unusual circumstances, he was not surprised when the reaction came and his studio was deserted by the fashionable crowd. He merely increased his exertions to supply those defects in his art of which no one was more conscious than himself, and also to improve his education by the study of French and Latin, and by assiduous reading of English literature. He had confidence in his natural gifts, and though conscious that his manners were rough and unpolished, and that his education was defective, he did not on this account shun the companionship of others