Re-launch of campaign to raise funds for Norwich Castle Museum

Amelia Opie

The campaign to raise funds to acquire for Norwich Castle Museum an exceptional double portrait of Amelia Opie by her husband, the Royal Academician John Opie, has been re-launched with facilities for donating online.

At the launch of the campaign the Friends of the Norwich Museums agreed to handle cheque donations made towards the funds needed to acquire the Opie double portrait.. Donors were asked to make their cheques out to: The Friends of the Norwich Museums, with a covering note indicating that the sum was ‘a restricted donation’ to assist with the purchase of the Opie portrait… Cheques were to be sent to The Treasurer, The Friends of the Norwich Museums, c/o The Shirehall, Market Avenue. Norwich, NR1 2JQ. Donations could also be gift aided if required.

There was a promising response, but many potential donors said they would prefer to make a donation online. This has now been set up at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ann-farrant.

The portrait has been valued at £15,000, but the seller, who is keen for it to be acquired for Norwich Castle Museum, has offered it for a special price. Ann Farrant says ‘We have had some very generous donations so far, but I appreciate that in these financially unsettled times many people, however willing, can only manage a modest donation. Giving online makes it much easier to do just that. Any sum which donors can afford would be most welcome.’

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Campaign to raise funds for Norwich Castle Museum

Amelia Opie

A campaign has been launched to raise funds to acquire for Norwich Castle Museum an exceptional portrait of Amelia Opie, which was painted by her husband the Royal Academician John Opie. The museum already owns several Opie portraits, most notably that of John Crome, one of the founders of the Norwich School of Artists.

When he married Amelia, John Opie, from Cornwall, was already one of the leading portraitists of the day. He had settled in London in 1781, where he had been launched at the age of 20 as ’the Cornish Wonder’. Marriage to the sociable and gregarious Amelia brought Opie many commissions for portraits from well-connected families in Norwich and Norfolk.

Ann Farrant says: “As Norwich Castle Museum owns the David d’Angers bust of Amelia Opie it seems that it would be absolutely right for it to have the double portrait of her as well. I believe the museum should own this exceptional painting of one of its most celebrated citizens, not just because of who she was, but also because of the artist himself. Both the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain own Opie portraits and his work can be seen in galleries and libraries both in the UK and abroad.”

Opie did nine portraits of Amelia. The double portrait which the campaigners hope to acquire for Norwich shows Amelia full face and in profile. It was painted in the early months of their marriage – one of two by Opie, who routinely painted two versions of a portrait, according to Viv Hendra, author of The Cornish Wonder: A Portrait of John Opie. The second double portrait of Amelia, which is an a very poor condition, is owned by the National Trust at Trerice in Cornwall.

The portrait has been valued at £15,000, but the seller, who is keen for it to be acquired for Norwich Castle Museum, has offered it for a special price. The campaigners are hoping to raise £10,500 for its acquisition.

The Friends of the Norwich Museums have kindly agreed to handle donations made towards the funds needed to acquire the Opie double portrait.. Donors should make their cheques out to: The Friends of the Norwich Museums, with a covering note indicating that the sum is ‘a restricted donation’ to assist with the purchase of the double portrait of Amelia Opie.. Cheques should be sent to The Treasurer, The Friends of the Norwich Museums, c/o The Shirehall, Market Avenue. Norwich, NR1 2JQ. Donations can be gift aided if required.

For details of how you can also donate funds via electronic transfer, call the The Friends of the Norwich Museums on 01508 578353.

Double portrait of Amelia Opie by her husband John Opie.

As Amelia was an accomplished musician and had a fine singing voice, it is significant that Opie portrayed her holding a musical instrument. Opinions differ as to whether it is meant to be a guitar or lute. Twenty years after this portrait was painted Amelia acquired a harp lute and took lessons on playing it.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ‘CAMPAIGN TO PURCHASE PORTRAIT…’ ARTICLE IN THE EASTERN DAILY PRESS.

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Martineau Society Conference

Amelia Opie Ann Farrant

I was invited to give the opening address at this year’s Martineau Society Conference (23-26 July, 2015), which took place in Norwich, the birthplace of both Harriet Martineau and Amelia Opie. My subject was ‘Amelia Opie and the Martineaus’.

The Society was founded in Norwich in 1993 and has grown steadily since then, attracting member s from Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. In the early days interest focused primarily on Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), a distinguished writer and journalist, and her brother James (1805-1900), a philosopher and theologian. However, the Martineaus from whom Harriet and James were descended and the Martineaus who came after them are also worthy of attention. Many were not only important figures in the fields of medicine, art, engineering, linguistics and industry, but associates and friends of important people in the academic, political and economic circles of their day.

Harriet Martineau

I had a particular interest in the birthplace of Harriet Martineau – Gurney Court in Magdalen Street – because the north wing of the house was let to my great-grandfather Walter Batterbee from 1896 to 1906. During research for my biography Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity, I discovered that Amelia’s father Dr.James Alderson also had associations with Gurney Court, as he was the family doctor for the Gurneys who lived in the property in the 1770s and 1780s.

North wing Gurney Court

I also discovered that Amelia Opie had associations with many of the Martineaus. The oldest was Sarah Martineau (1725-1800), Harriet’s grandmother, whose portrait was painted by Amelia’s husband, the Royal Academician John Opie. Amelia’s father and Harriet’s uncle Dr. Philip Meadows Martineau were colleagues at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital which was founded in 1771 for ‘the deserving poor’. Amelia’s uncle Robert Alderson was for ten years a minister at the Octagon Chapel in Norwich, where both Amelia and Harriet were baptised. This was another connection for me – my maternal grandparents were married at the Octagon in 1905.

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In London in the 1780s Amelia was often a guest at the house of Dr. Robert Batty, whose daughter Elizabeth grew up to marry into the Martineau family and was the mother of the artist Robert Braithwaite Martineau. Members of the Martineau family subscribed to Amelia’s Memoir of her husband which was published in 1809 as a preface to his Lectures on Painting..

One of Amelia’s particular friends in the literary world, the essayist and poet Anna Letitia Barbauld, was also known to the Martineaus. In her autobiography, Harriet recalled her as a ‘comely elderly lady’ visiting the household when she was a child. As an adult she wrote admiringly of Mrs.Barbauld’s writings, but was less approving of others, criticising what she called the ‘literary pretensions’ of the city of her birth.

When Amelia Opie died in December 1853, Harriet wrote an obituary for the London Daily News, describing the death as ‘the loss of another of that curious class of English people – the provincial literary lion.’ Later the piece was included in Biographical Sketches, a collection of Martineau obituaries from the newspaper, published in 1869.

Ann Farrant

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Bust of Amelia Opie by David d’Angers

Amelia Opie Ann Farrant

One of the most pleasing events during years of research for my biography Amelia Opie The Quaker Celebrity was when Norwich Castle Museum acquired the beautiful white marble bust of Amelia by the French sculptor David d’Angers in November 2008. It was purchased with generous grants from the Victoria & Albert Museum/MLA Purchase Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.

Marble bust of Amelia Opie
by David d’Angers.
(Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

The bust was not mentioned by Mrs.Opie’s first biographer Cecilia Lucy Brightwell (1854); later biographers in1933 and 1937 referred to it only briefly. When I started work on transcribing some of Amelia’s family letters, I was delighted to find her own account of the circumstances leading to the bust’s creation and its arrival at her home in Norwich. The relevant correspondence is in a collection of 364 Opie letters held in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Plaster bust of Amelia Opie

Plaster bust of Amelia Opie. (David d’Angers Gallery, Angers, France)

After I had completed my research at the Huntington Library, I made the acquaintance of the owner of the Opie bust, Christopher Woods, a descendant of Amelia’s cousin Margaret Thompson (née Alderson), sister of Dr.James Alderson, to whom the bust had been bequeathed. This cousin James had given away his sister Margaret’s daughter Amabel, when she married. When the unmarried James died a few years later, Amabel’s husband bought the bust at an auction of James’ effects and it had remained in the family ever since.
 
 
 
 
 
I felt privileged to view the bust at Christopher’s house and was delighted when he loaned it to Norwich Castle Museum for its 2007 exhibition marking the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and featuring Amelia’s role in the anti-slavery movement. When he decided to sell it, he offered the bust to the museum. An appropriate ‘home-coming’ for one of Norwich’s most celebrated citizens.

Amelia Opie bust description
Footnote: In Angers, the sculptor’s birthplace, there is a Gallery of David d’Angers, which has on display a plaster bust, identified as ‘Amelia Opie. Femme de lettres anglaise (1769-1853). Buste offert au modèle, 1836’.

Copyright © Ann Farrant, 2014

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Reviews from Amelia’s home city

Amelia Opie

Eastern Daily Press

On 27th December 2014, very soon after the book’s launch, Christopher Smith in the Eastern Daily Press wrote a very positive review which included these highlights…

“a detailed and meticulously researched biography of a woman whose story is well worth telling”

“beautifully illustrated with full colour portraits and smaller in-page sketches by Amelia herself that have genuine immediacy”

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Launch Event

Amelia Opie Ann Farrant

The Octagon Chapel Norwich The Launch of  the definitive  biography “Amelia Opie” by Ann Farrant took place at The Octagon Chapel, Norwich, England on Thursday 4th December 2014.

Amelia was baptised at the Octagon on 6th December, 1769.

Amelia Opie Book Signing

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Amelia Opie - Cover

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