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The self-taught genius, driven by natural impulse to fulfil a creative destiny, became a Romantic ideal across Europe. Opie was renowned as a British example, the ‘Cornish wonder’. But here he shows a debt in subject and technique to Joshua Reynolds.The subject is the heroine of Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida 1602, a tragedy of love and betrayal during the siege of Troy by the Greeks. Shakespeare underwent a major revival late in the eighteenth century. Artists contributed designs for John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery from 1787. The British history plays were specially influential in promoting interest in the national past.

May 2007