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and dreamed himself out of the sympathies of actual life. His method of colouring was a secret which he kept to himself, or confided only to his wife; he believed that it was revealed in a vision, and that he was bound in honour to conceal it from the world. “His modes of preparing his grounds,” says Smith, in his Supplement to the Life of Nollekens, “an laying them over his panels for painting, mixing his colours, and manner of working, were those which he considered to have been practised by the early fresco painters, whose productions still remain in many instances vividly and permanently fresh. His ground was a mixture of whiting and carpenter's glue, which he passed over several times in the coatings; his colours he ground himself, and also united with them the same sort of glue, but in a much weaker state. He would, in the course of painting a picture, pass a verythin transparent wash of glue-water over the whole of the parts he had worked upon, and then proceed with his finishing. He had many secret modes of working, both as a colourist and an engraver. His method of eating away the plain copper, and leaving the lines of his subjects and his words as stereotype, is, in my mind, perfectly orignal. Mrs. Blake is in possession of the secret, and she ought to receive something considerable for its communication, as I am quite certain it may be used to advantage, both to artists and literary characters in general. The affection and fortitude of this woman entitle her to much respect. She shared her husband's lot without a murmur, set her heart solely upon his fame, and soothed him in those hours of misgiving and despondency which are not unknown to the strongest intellects. She still lives to lament the loss of Blake—and feel it.”
JOHN OPPY (or OPIE)
WAs born in the parish of St. Agnes, about seven miles from the town of Truro in Cornwall, in 1761. His father and grandfather were carpenters; his mother was descended from the ancient family of Tonkin, in the same district, but whose chief claim to distinction arises from a county history, which one of her relatives wrote, and which remains unfinished, as well as unpublished, in the hands of Lord De Dunstanville. Of his mother's claim to high provincial descent he was either ignorant or disdainful; for his widow—a name of some note in literature—confesses that she was made acquainted with it for the first time by a brief sketch of his character, published after his death by Mr. Prince Hoare. He appears to have been regarded among his rustic companions as a kind of parochial wonder ... from his early years. At the age of twelve he had mastered Euclid, and was considered so skilful in arithmetic and penmanship, that he commenced an evening school for the instruction of the peasants of the parish of St. Agnes. His father—a blunt mechanic—seems to have misunderstood all these indications of mental superiority, and wished him to leave the pen for the plane and the saw ; and it would appear that his paternal desires were for some time obeyed, for John accompanied, at least, his father to his work: but this was when he was very young, and it seems probable that he disliked the business, since his father had to chastise him for making ludicrous drawings with red chalk on the deals which were planed up for use.
His love of art came upon him early. When he was ten years old he saw Mark Oates—an elder eompanion, and now a Captain of Marines—draw a butterfly; he looked anxiously on, and exclaimed, “I think I can draw 2 butterfly as well as Mark Oates:” he took a pencil, tried, succeeded, and ran breathless home to tell his mother what he had done. Soon afterward he saw a picture of a farmyard in a house in Truro where his father was at work; he looked and looked—went away—returned again and looked—and seemed unwilling to be out of sight of this prodigy. For this forwardness his father— whose hand seems to have been ever ready in that way—gave him a sharp chastisement; but the lady of the house interposed, and indulged the boy with another look. On returning home he procured cloth and colours, and made a tolerable copy of the painting from memory alone. He likewise attempted original delineation from life; and, by degrees, hung the humble dwelling round with likenesses of his relatives and companions, much to the pleasure of his uncle, a man with sense and knowledge above his condition, but greatly to the vexation of his father, who could not comprehend the merit of such an idle trade.
Of the early days of
“The Cornish Boy in tin mines bred,
as Wolcot describes him, we have various and con flicting accounts. The Professor of Ancient History in the Royal Academy says that he followed his studies in art with much ardour, and that his sketches attracted the notice of Wolcot (Peter Pindar), then residing as a physician in Truro, whose knowledge in painting and sound judgment were of great advantage to the young scholar. A rougher man tells a ruder story. “Dr. Wolcot,” says Smith, “compassionately took him as a lad to clean Wol. II.-0
knives, feed the dog, &c., purposely to screen him from the beating his father would now and then give him for chalking the sawpit all over. Oppy—for so we must for the present call him—always staid a long time when he went to the slaughter-house for paunches for the dog: at last the Doctor was so wonderfully pleased by John's bringing him home an astonishing likeness of his friend the carcass butcher, that he condescended to sit to him, and the production was equally surprising.” Some such story as this was related by Wolcot himself, in his half-grave and half-humorous way, at the period when the subject of this memoir was high in fame; but as his purpose was to rebuke the pride of the successful artist, his account must be received with some caution. It is certain, however, that our painter lived while a boy as a menial in the satirist's family, and gained his good-will by his talents. How long he remained with Wolcot has not been mentioned. When yet very young, we find him commenced portrait painter by profession, and wandering from town to town in quest of employment. “One of these expeditions,” says Prince Hoare, “was to Padstow, whither he set forward, dressed as usual in a boy's plain short jacket, and carrying with him all proper apparatus for portrait; Here, among others, he painted the whole ousehold of the ancient and respectable family of Prideaux, even to the dogs and cats of the family. He remained so long absent from home, that some uneasiness began to arise on his account, but it was dissipated by his returning dressed in a handsome coat, with very long skirts, laced ruffles, and silk stockings. On seeing his mother he ran to her, and taking out of his pocket twenty guineas which he had earned by his pencil, he desired her to keep them : adding, that in future he should maintain himself.” For his mother he alwavs entertained the deepest affection—and neither age nor the pressure of worldly business diminished his enthusiasm in the least. He loved to speak of the mildness of her nature and the tenderness of her heart—of her love of truth and her maternal circumspection. He delighted to recall her epithets of fondness, and relate how she watched over him when a boy, and warmed his gloves and great coat in the winter mornings on his departure for school. This good woman lived to the age of ninety-two, enjoyed the fame of her son, and was gladdened with his bounty. Of those early efforts good judges have spoken with much approbation;–they were deficient in grace, but true to nature, and remarkable for their fidelity of resemblance. . He painted with small #. and finished more highly than when his hand ad attained more mastery. Lord Bateman was one of his earliest patrons, and employed him to paint old men and travelling mendicants: sitters such as those neither alarmed the rustic artist with their dignity, nor annoyed him with their remarks—they sat in silent wonder, and beheld the second creation of their persons—then rose, and thought him a wondrous lad. By this practice his hand attained that ready and dashing freedom of manner, which was so much his friend when more fastidious heads came to his easel. His usual price, when he was sixteen years of age, was seven shillings and sixpence for a portrait. But of all the works which he painted in those probationary days, that which won the admiration of the good people of Truro most was a parrot walking down his perch: all the living parrots that saw it acknowledged the resemblance. So much was he charmed with his pursuit and his prospects, that when Wolcot asked him how he liked painting, “Better,” he answered, “than bread and meat.” In the twentieth year of his age our limner formed the resolution of visiting London, and set out for