The work of Heather MacPherson on portraiture and celebrity in the career Sarah Siddons might be fruitfully extended to the actress’s friend Amelia Opie. Macpherson comments: “Theatrical portraits functioned simultaneously as works of art and commercial commodities that mutually benefited the artist and the subject by capitalizing on the popularity of stage personalities. The celebrity cult and the rise of theatrical portraiture are emblematic of the general transformation in attitudes, ideas, and markets that precipitated the commercialization of culture in Georgian England,” (“Picturing Tragedy: Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse Revisited,” Eighteenth Century Studies, 33:3 (Spring 2000) 406). The cult of celebrity extended to writers as well, and Opie was the subject of at least six different engraved portraits published in periodicals between 1801 and 1821, all based on paintings by her husband, John Opie.

Engraving Chronology

1798: Marries John Opie (8 May)

1801: Engraved portrait (Mackenzie after John Opie) with “Memoirs of Mrs. Opie” appears in The Lady’s Monthly Museum (March)


1803: Engraved portrait (Ridley after John Opie) appears in European Magazine with a biographical notice (May). The National Portrait Gallery holds a drawing by Henry Bone which may also be based on the same portrait–see under Drawings.


1807: Death of John Opie (9 April); engraved portrait (Hopwood after John Opie) with “Memoir” attributed to Mrs. Taylor published in The Cabinet (June)


1815: Engraved portrait (Heath after John Opie) published in Lady’s Magazine (October)


1817: Engraved portrait (Hopwood after John Opie) published in The Ladies’ Monthly Museum (February)


1821: Engraved portrait (Cooper after John Opie) with “Biographical Sketches of Illustrious and Distinguished Characters: Mrs. Opie” published in La Belle Assemblée (January)


1825: One Hundred Etchings (Mrs. Dawson Turner after John Opie)