Research Project – John Opie Portraits

Since the publication of my biography Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity I have, almost by default, become involved in a new Opie project. I am working on tracing portraits of people from Norfolk, her home county, which her husband, the Royal Academician John Opie, was commissioned to paint, thanks to his marriage to the gregarious and well-connected Amelia.

Many Opie portraits are now in public art collections, but others are still privately owned. Research for the book led me to some of these private owners, whose willingness to give permission to publish reproductions of portraits was splendid. At this stage, of course, I required only a few of the most relevant portraits for the biography.

Just before publication I was contacted by a fellow researcher, who, knowing of my quest for Opie illustrations for the book, said he had found ‘somebody’ who might be helpful. It was too late for inclusion in the book, but nonetheless I was interested. The ‘somebody’ was related to a family descended from one of Amelia Opie’s cousins, who had been painted by Opie. My contact thought the family still owned the portrait. Indeed, they do. And they have been happy to show it to me.

Once the book came out I was approached by an art lover who had acquired an Opie portrait at a London auction and wondered if I would like to see it. Another happy meeting and the chance to see the lovely portrait of a woman who was a childhood friend of Amelia’s and regarded as a beauty in her day. I traced another Norfolk sitter, the son of one of Amelia’s father Dr.Alderson’s colleagues, when attending an auction myself.

After one of my talks on Amelia Opie I was approached by a member of the audience. She thought an Opie portrait was still owned by one of her husband’s relations and offered to pursue the matter. This was an interesting follow-up, as I was aware of the circumstances of this particular painting. The current owner was pleased to meet somebody who is as interested in his family history as he is.

Then a reader got in touch. She knew somebody ‘well connected’, as she described it, and understood the family might own an Opie or two. Again, my quest was greeted with interest and enthusiasm.

And so my research continues. It is pleasing to find that owners are happy to share their appreciation of the portraits and to exchange news and views about their provenance. Like me, they look forward to further sharing and possible publication.

Meanwhile, from the many portraits on my search list, I am particularly keen to locate the ‘likeness’, as Amelia would have termed it, of the Rev.John Bruckner. A cultured and scholarly man, he was invited to move from Holland to Norwich in 1753 to be the pastor of the city’s Walloon (French Protestants) Church. A few years later he also took charge of the city’s Dutch Protestant Church. Bruckner also gave lessons in French. His pupil Amelia Alderson became fluent in the language and retained great affection for her tutor. Soon after her marriage she persuaded John to paint for her a portrait of her old French master. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 and was one of her most treasured possessions.

She bequeathed the portrait to a friend and it was still in his family 50 years later. If the owners of the Bruckner portrait or the owners of any other Opie portraits wish to contact me they may do so from this website. Should my research into his Norfolk sitters result in publication, the correct procedures for reproduction permissions and credits would be sought and applied.

© Ann Farrant 2018

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