Edward OPIE

Edward OPIE

Edward was born and brought up at Harmony Cot, Mithian, near St Agnes. He was brought up always aware of the fame of his great-uncle John OPIE RA, 'The Cornish Wonder'. The senior Opie had been born in the same family cottage, but died five years before Edward was born.

At sixteen, tutored to emulate the work of his predecessor, he went to London in May 1826. For the first time he was able to see the work of John Opie at such revered places as the Royal Academy and Lander comments on the excitement he gained from the experience.  He was well-received by John's artist friends, and later in the year he visited John's widow, Amelia, still living in Norwich.

By 1830 he had settled in Truro, where he painted portraits of local personages, managing to accomplish this at a rate of one a week. Mrs Amelia Opie visited Edward and Cornwall for the first time, and was delighted to visit Harmony Cot where her late husband had been brought up, having heard so much about it.

In 1832 Edward left Cornwall for London again for further study, beginning a pupilage under Henry Peronet Briggs, RA, where intensive copying of other works helped hone his skills as a portraitist, and gradually he attempted more imaginative themes, although the failure of one of his portraits at the Royal Academy in 1834 caused great distress. He started to paint "in a wild experimental way", going to Paris and working at the Louvre for four months before returning to London.  

In 1850 he married Margaret Thomas in St Ives, so had evidently been travelling back to the West Country quite regularly. By 1857 he was giving a Plymouth address, and in 1871 was apparently back at St Agnes; from 1872 until his death he was giving both as his addresses. During his life he had no less than forty nine paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy. In an age before camera, portraits earned an artist his living, although Edward painted many other scenes which reflected his love of Cornish life as well as appealing to Victorian sentiments. [Words, thanks to Viv Hendra, Lander Galleries, Truro].


Painter of portraits and genre

works and access

Works include: A Fisherman's Wife Watching the Return of the Boats; Coast of Cornwall (1861); The Old Man and the Donkey; The Way Over the Sands (1868); On the Seashore (1871); A Timid Venture (1871); The Noonday Rest

Access to Works: The National Trust has a portrait of a young lady set in a coastal landscape (at Buckland Abbey).

The St Agnes Museum has his painting Edward Opie, the Artist's Father (1836).

Truro City Council have his portrait of the Reverend Cornelius Cardew; also that of Edward John Spry MRCS, Mayor (1838, 1855, 1858), the latter painted c.1840.


RA (49)


Hendra (2007) 'The Cornish Wonder' A portrait of John Opie RA



Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership