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John Opie

Portrait of John Elliot


John Opie
Saint Agnes, England, 1761 – London 1807


Portrait of John Elliot


About 1785-1790


Oil on canvas


76.2 x 63.5 cm


William J. Morrice Bequest, inv. 1943.830


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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