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John Opie

Portrait of John Elliot

Artist

John Opie
Saint Agnes, England, 1761 – London 1807

Title

Portrait of John Elliot

Date

About 1785-1790

Materials

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

76.2 x 63.5 cm

Credits

William J. Morrice Bequest, inv. 1943.830

Collection

Western Art

With no real formal training, Opie exceeded all expectations when he exhibited his works at the Royal Academy in London. Originally from Cornwall, he was hailed as “the Cornish Wonder” by his fellow painters. Though he had not been academically trained, Opie had befriended the well-connected doctor and amateur artist John Wolcot while still in Cornwall, where he was introduced and encouraged to study the works of masters in private collections. In particular, Opie was influenced by engravings after portraits by Rembrandt. His works took on a strong chiaroscuro character, a feature that prompted Joshua Reynolds to describe him as “Caravaggio and Velazquez in one.” This portrait reveals Opie’s preference for juxtapositions of light and dark. Like many of his portraits, it is characterized by a dramatically lit figure against a darkened background. Little is known of John Elliot, other than the fact that he belonged to a prominent Cornish family.

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