John Opie

British (1761–1807)

The Fortune Teller

Oil on canvas

Gift of Mrs. Leadley D. Trice


A self-taught artist, Opie was famous as a portraitist before becoming better known as a history painter. In 1805 Opie became professor of painting at the Royal Academy in London. He is buried at St. Paul’s near Joshua Reynolds, one of the Academy’s founders.

The Fortune Teller is a subject picture or “fancy picture.” In Britain, these referred to the imagination, or “fancy.” The young woman gazes out at us while pointing to a single card, a standard conceit associated with gypsy fortune-tellers. Her peacock feather suggests this, as well. In this era only gypsies would wear peacock feathers, a symbol of ill luck. According to custom, gypsies could not enter a home to tell a person’s fortune.

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