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
Click on the links below to find out more:
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 148 portraits, Sitter in 13 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, whose birth in 1797 was to cost her mother her life. After Wollstonecraft's death this portrait hung above Godwin's fireplace.
Linked publicationsback to top
- National Portrait Gallery: 100 Portraits, p. 53
- Audio Guide
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 62
- Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 43
- Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 32
- Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 51
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 148
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 151
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 674
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 116
- Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 218
- Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 49
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1797back to top
Current affairsThe Anti-Jacobin periodical makes its debut followed by The Anti-Jacobin Review the year after. Edited by William Gifford, it acted as a Tory mouthpiece against the 'New Morality' associated with republicanism.Bank crisis results in the temporary suspension of payments by the Bank of England leading to a nationwide currency shortage.
Art and scienceRobert Southey, later Poet Laureate, publishes his collected Poems, exploring contemporary interest in mythology and non-European cultures.Ann Radcliffe publishes her popular gothic novel The Italian. One of the most imaginative novelists of the period, she helped introduce readers to the romantic sense of the supernatural.
InternationalBattle of Cape St Vincent. Admiral John Jervis leads the fleet which defeat the Spanish.Failure of a small French invasion in Pembrokeshire. Naval mutinies at Spithead and Nore.Attack on the Canary Islands in which Rear-Admiral Nelson loses an arm.
See this portrait
On display in Room 18 at the National Portrait Gallery