JEPHTHAH: HEAD AND SHOULDERS
Date: early 1790s
Cut by the artist from his painting THE SACRIFICE OF JEPHTHAH’S DAUGHTER
Given by the artist to his pupil CATHERINE ST AUBYN
By family descent at CLOWANCE, then on marriage to Molesworth, at PENCARROW, Cornwall (hung in library)
Lambrays Auction, Wadebridge
Private collection, Cornwall.
Catherine St Aubyn was a prestigious pupil for Opie, as her brother was Sir John St Aubyn of Clowance and St Michael's Mount, Cornwall.
He was Opie's most important and generous patron, assembling a significant collection of Opie's works, some of which are now on public display at St Michael's Mount.
St Aubyn supported Opie throughout his career, from the painting of the very early self portrait to Opie's funeral in St Paul's.
Employing Opie as art tutor for his sister was a sensible, practical move.
Opie would have been able to call on the St Aubyns in London and in Cornwall.
He gave this "Head of an Old Man" to Catherine St Aubyn for her to study and copy. It was stitched into another canvas having been cut from his own canvas:THE SACRIFICE OF JEPHTHAH’S DAUGHTER (Judges 11, v 39,40)
The story of the curious cut- out painting became part of the legend of John Opie and indeed of Pencarrow House and with the artist's increasing fame the painting acquired a certain celebrity. Subsequently neglected, its significance was forgotten when it was put into a local auction. Here it was recognised by its purchaser, who had it conserved.
THE SACRIFICE OF JEPHTHAH’S DAUGHTER (Judges 11, v 39,40)
For MACKLIN’S BIBLE 1790
The original painting was 82” x 60”
Another version was 70” x 56”
Macklin was so delighted with the popularity of his illustrated poetry that he went on to publish an illustrated bible, featuring pictures by a variety of living artists. Opie was included in this venture also. There were six large volumes, all beautifully bound. Until then, prints of bible stories had been imported from abroad, after paintings by the classic artists. Now Macklin spotted another area rich in material for the artists of his time. As the end of another century approached, he hoped to catch the spirit of the turning of the years with these splendid books. They were finally published in 1800.
Opie contributed four subjects: two were New Testament stories: the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and The Lord of the Vineyard. One was from the apocryphal book of Judith. The fourth was to be one of his best known works- THE SACRIFICE OF JEPHTHAH’S DAUGHTER. He was working on this in the early 1790s.
It tells how Jephthah, one of the Judges of Jerusalem, vowed to God that he would sacrifice the first living creature he met if Jerusalem could be spared destruction. The Israelites were spared but the first person Jephthah met as he returned to the city was his own daughter. True to his vow, he sacrificed her.
The print sold very well, with its intense emotion.
(See:THE CORNISH WONDER: A PORTRAIT OF JOHN OPIE (TRURAN)