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Works John Opie

Portrait Head of Thomas Girtin

1800 - 1805

Primary Image: TG1927: John Opie (1761-1807), Portrait Head of Thomas Girtin, 1800–05, oil on canvas, 60.9 × 50.8 cm, 24 × 20 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bonhams (All Rights Reserved)

John Opie (1761-1807)
  • Portrait Head of Thomas Girtin
1800 - 1805
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas
60.9 × 50.8 cm, 24 × 20 in
Object Type
Oil painting
Subject Terms
Portrait of Thomas Girtin

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2015


William Rockhill Nelson Gallery (now the Nelson-Atkins Museum), Kansas, Missouri; their sale, Christie's, 9 February 1990, lot 123; Bonhams, 8 July 2015, lot 59, £5,000

About this Work

This head-and-shoulders view of Girtin in a false oval, painted by John Opie (1761–1807), is based on a small oil sketch (TG1930) that was presumably made from life. The small canvas differs in format from the better-known versions of Opie’s portrait that show Girtin with a porte crayon and (possibly) a sketchbook in hand (TG1924, TG1929 and TG1931), and there is therefore no indication that we are looking at an artist. Portraits of one artist by another were commonly produced from motives of friendship and professional solidarity, as in the case of Henry Edridge (1768–1821) and his drawing of Girtin sketching (TG1923), but this larger finished oil is a more formal commissioned piece, possibly made for one of Girtin’s patrons. None of the many versions of Opie’s portrait are dated, and it is therefore possible that most of them were commissioned after the artist’s death as memorials. If Opie’s portrait was painted posthumously, it offers no hint of impending mortality, however; indeed, the slightly open mouth suggests that the artist is engaged in conversation even as he works. Early biographical accounts of the artist stress his sociable nature and how his painting room ‘was the resort of many persons of distinction in society’, where, ‘surrounded by callers, the artist would go on with his work, chatting and telling anecdotes at the same time; liberal, as on all occasions, of his knowledge of art’ (Roget, 1891, pp.109–10). Thus it is that, even without any indication that we are looking at an artist, one cannot help but suspect that the original sketch was made in Girtin’s studio rather than that of the portraitist.

1800 - 1801

Sketch of Thomas Girtin’s Head


1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


(?) 1801

Thomas Girtin Sketching


by Greg Smith

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