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Mary Wollstonecraft

9 of 26 portraits on display in Room 18 at the National Portrait Gallery

Mary Wollstonecraft, by John Opie, circa 1797 - NPG 1237 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mary Wollstonecraft

by John Opie
oil on canvas, circa 1797
30 1/4 in. x 25 1/4 in. (768 mm x 641 mm)
Bequeathed by Jane, Lady Shelley, 1899
Primary Collection
NPG 1237


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Sitterback to top

  • Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), Writer and feminist; wife of William Godwin. Sitter in 6 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Opie (1761-1807), Portrait and history painter. Artist associated with 146 portraits, Sitter in 12 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The writer Mary Wollstonecraft is portrayed in this painting with the utmost simplicity. She wears a high-waisted white cotton gown while her plainly-styled hair is partially covered by a soft hat. She made her views on dress clear in her published work, stating that it should neither distort nor hide the human form but rather 'adorn the person and not rival it'. This reflected the French Revolutionary emphasis on man's natural rights and honesty; rejecting disguise and ostentation to reveal the 'real' person. Even for women without Wollstonecraft's high principles, under the prevailing influence of Neo-classicism, the emphasis in fashion of the mid-1790s was on restraint and elegance. When painted by Opie, Wollstonecraft was pregnant with her daughter Mary, who became Mary Shelley, whose birth in 1797 was to cost her mother her life. After Wollstonecraft's death this portrait hung above Godwin's fireplace.

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