Mary Wollstonecraft

1 portrait on display in Room 37 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

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, 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.

Linked publicationsback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Tell us moreback to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, something missing, or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have any information to share please complete the form below

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.


How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your nameclose

If you tick permission to publish your name will appear above your contribution on our website.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.