Portraits

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.

Amelia Opie’s interest in the role such images played in literary fame is made clear in a series of letters written to Mrs. Dawson Turner, who had engraved a 1798 portrait for her One Hundred Etchings (privately printed at Yarmouth, 1825). Opie offers critical feedback on a trial version of the etching, supplemented by remarks from her father and Mr. Clover, the current owner of the portrait, and thanks Mrs. Turner “for the honor & kindness which she has done me in enabling me to go down to Posterity (if I go down at all) in so very favourable a point of view” ( Amelia Opie to Dawson Turner 4 March 1822, Dawson Turner Papers 45, Wren Library, Cambridge). It seemed only fitting to use the etching in the banner of this website.

The portraits can be found in the links below.

Oil Portraits

Engravings

Sculpture

Drawings

2 thoughts on “Portraits

    1. Well, we’re trusting to the expertise of the Prints and Drawings division of the British Museum here, but I agree that it is a tad unflattering and more matronly than John Opie’s portraits from 4 years later suggest. Still, the distinctive nose does suggest Amelia. Thank-you for asking about this–it sent me back to the NPG site hunting for a miniature identified as Amelia Opie that I think is Mary Bunn, but I found new drawings by Henry Bone that appear to be versions of other images on our site. The 1794 dating on Bone’s drawings adds confusion, however, since Amelia Alderson and John Opie didn’t marry until 1798, and the portraits Bone is copying are all dated to that year. So perhaps George Dance’s confident dating is after the fact as well and out by a number of years.

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