John Opie was a child prodigy fromb the north coast of Cornwall, who from a young age painted portraits of his friends and neighbours.

In 1779, aged 18, he moved to Helston with his mentor and agent, John Walcot. It was around this time that Opie painted A Portrait of an Old Jew, probably as a character piece to advertise his talents. The subject is likely to have been Abraham Hart, a Penzance rabbi. Jews first came to Penzance from Germany and the Netherlands at the start of the 18th century and a small cemetery in the town became their resting place. The cemetery is preserved to this day and it is likely that Abraham Hart was buried there. In 1781 Opie moved to London and began to receive commissions from King George III and other notables, earning him the title of the Cornish Wonder. He taught at the Royal Academy Schools and became a member of the RA in 1788. When he died in 1807, aged 45, he was buried in St Paul's Cathedral alongside Sir Joshua Reynolds. When Opie moved to London he took A Portrait of an Old Jew with him. It now returns to Penzance as a record of Opie's remarkable story, and of the Jewish community who lived there.


Davies Giddy (aka Davies Gilbert MP, PRS) acquired directly from the artist. Thence by descent to his son, John Davies Gilbert; thence to his sister, Catherine Enys of Enys, Cornwall; thence to JD Enys of Enys, by 1911; Enys Estate Sale, Bonhams 12 Octobe

Exhibitions at Penlee House Gallery and Museum

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