THE BLIND BEGGAR OF BETHNAL GREEN was a popular composition.
Several painted versions are known. Despite this,there appear to have been no engravings.
One version is in the Ashmolean Musuem, Oxford.
Two are in Cornwall.
Here is another version in a private collection, formerly in the Lander Gallery, Truro.
The story, known through an old ballad, told of a blind old man who was led through the streets by his beautiful daughter, Bessie. He was variously mocked by strangers but finally revealed to be a wealthy knight whose daughter then married well.
The subject matter allowed the artist to contrast Age and Youth,stimulating philosophical thought in the viewer. Similarly, Opie's AGE AND INFANCY, his 1786 Royal Academy Piece, set the old man with a sleeping child.
The model for Bessie is PLEASANCE REEVE, LADY SMITH. Famed for her beauty she lived to the age of 103 (see LADY SMITH AS A GYPSY on this site)
The presence of the aged man may have hindered the commercial appeal of the image. At least two versions are known where the picture has been altered to remove the man and leave just the girl. One was resold as THE MATCH GIRL.
The known versions are identical in composition, though there are variations in the handling of the paint. Possibly the copies were by Opie's students.
The DATE is unknown. William Owen, a fellow artist, exhibited the subject in 1801 at the R.A. and it is tempting to guess that Opie's painting dates from the same time. Owen's was reproduced as a print, inspection of which suggests that Owen also used pleasanc Reeve, Lady Smith, as his model- though the old man is different.