Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery acquires marble bust of Amelia Opie

  • 12 November 2008

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery has purchased a magnificent white marble bust of the Norwich born author and poet, Amelia Opie, with the help of The Art Fund - the UK's leading independent art charity. The Art Fund contributed £3,000 towards the work's total cost of £12,000.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund said: “During her lifetime, Amelia Opie’s moving anti-slavery poems had a powerful impact, as did her philanthropic works. The addition of this fine sculpture to the Norwich Castle collection will help to ensure that she is not forgotten.”

Vanessa Trevelyan, Head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service said: “This bust will be a lovely addition to our displays. Amelia Opie was an extraordinary woman, ahead of her time in many ways and a truly ‘Renaissance woman’ in the scope of her interests.”

The bust of the Norwich born author and poet was made in 1836 by well-known French sculptor, Pierre-Jean David, known as David d’Angers. David, who studied in Paris and then at the Prix de Rome, was famed for his romanticised portraits which often reflected his interest in phrenology, a theory that believes an individual’s traits may be read from their physical features.

Research by Opie’s biographer, Ann Farrant, into correspondence at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, has revealed some fascinating details. Opie and David met in Paris in 1829 and became good friends who corresponded regularly. After much wrestling with her vanity and anxieties about how she would look in sculpture, Opie reluctantly fulfilled David’s request that a bust be made.

Opie writes of how a plaster mask was taken of her face by a Norwich modeller - probably the same person who made the death masks of prisoners hanged in Norwich Castle prison. It was sent to David in France and he used it to make the bust. It was almost four years before it was finally delivered in a crate to Opie’s home in Norwich and it was three weeks before she had the courage to open it.

What she found was something of a relief. The bust shows her as a handsome woman in her early sixties wearing the Quaker bonnet she had started to wear after her religious conversion some years earlier. It is an exceptionally fine example of David’s work and one Opie herself recognised that ‘as a work of art it is valuable’.

This is an important addition to the Museum’s collection of portraits of eminent local people. As well as being one of the most respected female fiction writers of her time, Amelia Opie was also deeply committed to the abolitionist cause and represented Norwich at the national anti-slavery convention. She had strong political interests and was a reformer and philanthropist, in addition to being a renowned figure in the cultural life of Norwich. She was also well acquainted with the artists of the Norwich School and was able to introduce her husband, the Cornish painter John Opie, to the Norwich art scene.'

The bust will be on show in the new Decorative Arts Galleries at Norwich Castle, which open in January.

The purchase was also supported by grants from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.


Notes to Editors

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their

has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; putting together a unique funding package to ensure Dumfries House in Ayrshire and its contents were secured intact for the nation in July 2007; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK.

For more information on The Art Fund contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit

Other Press/Media enquiries to:

Norma Watt Tel. 01603 493635

Ann Farrant Tel. 01603 632409 Mobile. 0794 1906015