Photo Credit: Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

In a letter to Eliza Briggs (6 July 1836, Huntington Library), Opie comments “I have after having it near 3 weeks, at last opened the box from David & had Courage to look at the bust! It has relieved my mind. I expected that it was either so flattered as to lose all likeness even more than Henry’s picture, or else so frightful & so like that it would offend my taste, & feelings to look at it. But I was mistaken. It is eminently flattered but in some views like still. The back of the head, & throat like, & the dress well managed as a work of art it is valuable. It is much younger than I am, & yet not young. It has marks of age. The hair is full for what my hair is now but I wore it so at Paris. 6 July 1836.”

Thanks to Ann Farrant for providing these striking photos and for sharing the press release regarding the purchase of the bust below:

Press Release: Purchase of marble bust of Amelia Opie by Pierre-Jean David d’Angers 1836

A magnificent white marble bust of Amelia Opie, the Norwich born author and poet, has been purchased by Norwich Castle with generous grants from the Victoria & Albert Museum/MLA Purchase Grant Fund, The Art Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.  The bust was made in 1836 by well-known French sculptor, Pierre-Jean David, known as David d’Angers.

The two met in Paris in 1829 and became good friends.  They corresponded regularly and David expressed his wish to make a bust of her.  After much wrestling with her vanity and anxieties about how she would look in a sculpture, she reluctantly agreed.  Recent research by Amelia’s biographer, Ann Farrant, in correspondence at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, has revealed fascinating details about it.

Amelia writes of how a plaster mask was taken of her face by a Norwich modeller, probably the same person who made the death masks of prisoners hanged in Norwich Castle prison.  This was sent to David in France, and from this he made the bust. It was almost four years before it was finally delivered in a crate to Amelia’s home in Norwich, and it was three weeks before she had the courage to open it.

What she found was something of a relief.  The bust shows her as a handsome woman in her early sixties wearing the Quaker bonnet that she had started to wear after her religious conversion some years earlier.  It is an exceptionally fine example of David’s work and one Amelia herself recognised that ‘as a work of art it is valuable’.

This is an important addition to the museum’s collection of portraits of eminent local people.  As well as being one of the most respected woman fiction writers of her time, Amelia Opie was also deeply committed to the abolitionist cause and represented Norwich at the national anti-slavery convention.  She had strong political interests and was a reformer and philanthropist, in addition to being a renowned figure in the cultural life of Norwich.

The bust is on display in the Victorian Gallery at Norwich Castle.