This area is intended as an informal forum for sharing information primarily on British silhouettes, portrait miniatures and provincial art. Sometimes a previously unrecorded trade label on a silhouette or other new information on a listed portrait artist comes to light and these pages will allow me to share that information with other collectors and enthusiasts. This may also stimulate discussion so comments, corrections and additional information will always be welcome.                                                                                                               Email: enquiries@wigsonthegreen.co.uk

LIST OF TOPICS

Elizabeth Cobbold, cutter of poetical Valentines
John Dempsey, character silhouettes
James H. Gillespie, miniature & profile artist
Miss C. H. Hudson, silhouette artist
Thomas Johnson, a rarely seen silhouette artist
Jones' Gallery of Art, an unrecorded silhouette gallery
Thomas Lewis, a profilist who liked a drink!
Shoe pincushions
Mr. George White, silhouette artist and photographer
W. M. Young,
a talented silhouette artist

JONES' GALLERY OF ART (Unrecorded & Rarely Seen Silhouette Artists - No. 3)

Jones' Gallery of Art is hitherto unrecorded as a silhouette studio and only a couple of examples of their work has previously been noted including a profile of a lady with a dog that was sold by a London salesroom many years ago. So to discover two further profiles that are clearly a pair, albeit that only one of them is stamped, is an opportunity to study the characteristics of the artist's style and so perhaps enable other unmarked profiles to be reliably attributed to the Gallery.

Like the other known (but unseen) Jones' Gallery silhouettes, these are full-length and are cut-outs that have been laid on standard weight card. They have been extensively gilded, the embellishment on the lady being particularly bright. The brushstrokes are not though as fine and neat as, for example, those seen on work by the Royal Victoria Gallery. The lady's hands are rather naively painted but then so many artists found hands difficult to capture. The problem is neatly avoided with the gentleman whose hands are clasped unseen behind his back. The background on both is also painted in sepia circles to convey a carpeted interior; this may well be a recurrent Gallery motif.

Distinctive watercolour background used by Jones' Gallery of Art

The profiles are undated but the style of the lady's dress and hair dates them to about 1830. Only one of the pair - the lady - is marked with the Gallery stencil stamp. No place is connected with the Gallery though one of the previously known examples is apparently inscribed Tunbridge Wells. The use of such a stamp, as well as the form of name, suggests that Jones was a commercial artist most likely itinerant though the paucity of marked work hints that it was perhaps a short-lived venture.

Cut and well-gilded full-length silhouette of a lady by Jones' Gallery of ArtCut and well-gilded full-length silhouette of a gentleman by Jones' Gallery of Art
A Pair of Profiles by Jones' Gallery of Art

Jones' Gallery of Art trade label
Stencil Stamp for Jones' Gallery of Art

 

 

 

 

 

August 2014

W. M. YOUNG (Unrecorded & Rarely Seen Silhouette Artists - No. 2)

W. M. Young was first recorded as a silhouettist by Mrs Jackson in 1911 on the strength of a single signed full-length profile of a lady dated 1836. In The Art of Silhouette (1913), Desmond Coke mentions "a delicious study in dark green and white of a girl with all her dainty laces shown in touches so light ... signed W.M. Young del, 1836" in the collection of Madame Dorotti of Ebury Street and speculates that it is the work of a young lady taught the art of silhouette painting at a ladies' seminary. Regrettably this fine-sounding portrait is not illustrated. By 1978 when Sue McKechnie was researching her volume, the Mrs Jackson profile and its companion were still the only known examples of this artist's work. So the discovery of a family group dated 1835 creates an opportunity to study the artist's style in more detail.

The previous examples are recorded as painted in olive-green but this silhouette is painted using conventional black watercolour with Chinese white for the little boy's collar and mother's cap and fichu-pèlerine. It is also well embellished with gold. The finely painted flowers - roses and a tulip - that mother and daughter are holding may be this artist's trademark as the full-length lady illustrated by Mckechnie held a similar posy with a tulip. The background is painted in a watercolour wash with a river landscape view from a balustraded terrace. But it is the artist's attention to detail that makes this such a pleasing group: the accurate folds on the mother's dress and the transparency of her cap, the cute bows on the gentleman's shoes, the paint decoration on the chair rail, and the shadows cast along the floor.

The sitters in this piece are named as Mr & Mrs William Ridgway and their son Henry. The girl is not named. Genealogical research suggests that the boy could be Henry William born to William and Caroline Ridgway in Bristol on 6 June 1829 so he would be six or seven years old in this portrait. The Bristol connection is to date the only clue as to which part of the country the artist was based in.

It would be interesting to learn of further silhouettes by this accomplished artist.

Silhouette converstaion piece by W M Young dated 1835
Family Group by W. M. Young


Signature for W. M. Young

 

 

 

 

 

March 2014


THOMAS JOHNSON (Unrecorded & Rarely Seen Silhouette Artists - No. 1)

Though Thomas Johnson of Harrogate was first listed as a silhouettist in Silhouette by Mrs Jackson (1938), very few examples of his work are known even today. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London holds two silhouettes of ladies by him, and a gentleman was sold in 1995 as part of the Christie Collection. These are all illustrated in British Silhouette Artists and their Work by Sue McKechnie (1978). This further example of a stylish but unnamed lady has recently come to light. It was previously sold by Sotheby's in May 1977 when it fetched the top silhouette price of the day.

Johnson was working at the end of the eighteenth century in Harrogate, a popular North Yorkshire spa town where visitors could bathe in the sulphur baths, perhaps more accurately named the 'stinking wells', and could drink water high in iron from Tewit Well as a cure for a myriad of illnesses. Johnson would therefore have been guaranteed a fashionable clientèle. It was a period of elegant and flamboyant dress still influenced by the French court. To accessorise their dress, ladies typically wore tall hats trimmed with ostrich feathers, ribbons and coquettes as evidenced by these fashion plates from 1790 and 1791.

Johnson painted bust-length silhouettes on flat glass using heavy black paint. He used a needle to scratch the hair details and thinned paint to create some transparency for the dress. He then backed the profile with a second piece of flat glass coated with gesso, a technique also used by the Jorden brothers. This creates a greenish hue resulting in better definition. All the known examples of his work are housed in brass-faced oval frames and are backed with his trade label.

T. JOHNSON
Harrogate
TAKES Miniature Profiles on Glafs,
thofe who pleafe to favour him with
their Commands may depend upon the moft
striking Likeneffes.
N.B. He keeps the Shades by him
fo that any friend by fending a line, may
have whatever Copies they please.


Rare silhouette by Thomas Johnson of Harrogate


Trade label for Thomas Johnson

 

 

February 2014


ELIZABETH COBBOLD - a lady of many talents  

Elizabeth was born in Watling Street, London in 1767, the daughter of Robert Knipe, a merchant. From an early age she devoted herself to the arts and published her first collection of poetry in 1787.

In 1790, aged twenty-three, she married a sixty year old gentleman and moved to Ipswich where her husband was comptroller of customs. Sadly three months later she was widowed but before the end of the year she married John Cobbold, a prominent Ipswich banker, brewer and merchant. Not only did Elizabeth acquire a new husband but at the same time she became step-mother to John's fourteen children so theirs must have been a hectic household. She herself went on to have six sons and a daughter though, sadly, her daughter and two of her sons died young. Writing to a friend, she conveys just how busy and varied her new life was -

A botanist one day, or grave antiquarian,
Next morning a sempstress, or abecedarian;
Now making a frock, and now marring a picture,
Next conning a deep philosophical lecture;
At night at the play, or assisting to kill,
The time of the idlers with whist or quadrille ...

Elizabeth continued to write and publish poetry and plays and was an ardent supporter of the theatre. But perhaps what she is most fondly remembered for is her annual St Valentine's Day party to which she invited the officers from the local garrison. For these parties, Elizabeth created individual cut paper Valentines each inscribed with an original verse. It is said that the ladies' Valentines, laid on blue paper, were placed in one basket, the gentlemens', laid on rose pink paper, in another basket; her unmarried guests were then invited to draw out a Valentine at random.

The popularity of the Valentines and the many requests she received for copies of them led Elizabeth to publish a selection of the poems in a booklet entitled Cliff Valentines (The Cliff being the name of the Cobbold family house). The parties which had run annually since 1806 ceased when Elizabeth became ill in 1822. She died two years later in October 1824.

Her distinctive cut paper Valentines remain as her legacy, each one being unique, and have become collectable. Two albums that she made for her sons have been preserved in the Cobbold Family Trust.

Does love a fav'rite lot impart
And mirth inscribe the playful line?
Then ask the lady of your heart
To read aright your Valentine.
And let her clearer Voice proclaim
The title you desire from fame.

 

Sources
L. Jermyn, Memoir, in E. Cobbold, Poems (1825)
J.M. Blatchly, Elizabeth Cobbold, Dictionary of National Biography


An original cut paper Valentine by Elizabeth Cobbold


THE HUBARD GALLERY, 1834:
John Cobbold in advanced years with his great grandson


An original cut paper Valentine by Elizabeth Cobbold

August 2013


THOMAS LEWIS - a profilist who was fond of a drink!  

Little is known about the silhouette artist T. Lewis who painted profiles during the 1830s and 1840s. His portraits are naive but have charm and are always set against a watercolour wash background. He often used the device of a picket fence to give perspective.

Mrs Jackson suggested that Lewis lived in York but further research has failed to turn up any more details for him.

The recent discovery though of a newspaper clipping, quite unrelated to silhouettes, has finally given us a Christian name for him as well as a location. The Bucks Herald, 4 March 1848, carried a brief report on the petty sessions held at Middleton Cheney (situated near Banbury) that included the following:

James Pinfold, constable, James Gardner, Thomas Lewis, profilist, all of Middleton Cheney, and Richard Bartlett of Culworth, charged by John Seeney, with having committed a breach of the peace. The defendants were all fined for having been drunk. Pinfold, Lewis and Bartlett paid £1.7s.6d., and were bound over to be good behaviour.

Let's hope he learned his lesson!

Painted silhouette of a child by Thomas Lewis

January 2013


GEORGE WHITE - silhouette artist and photographer

When Mrs Jackson and Sue McKechnie published their respective silhouette reference books, little was known about the artist who stamped his work with this stencil. Recent research undertaken by Photo-Sleuth has now revealed some biographical details for him. The artist's full name was George White and he was born in 1810 in a small village near Matlock in Derbyshire. Whilst still a young child, the family moved to Chesterfield where George's father worked as a gardener. In 1834 George married a local girl, Ann Melbourne.

It is unclear when he began cutting silhouette likenesses professionally but in September 1835 at the age of twenty-five he had opened a shop in the centre of Manchester and in the Manchester Times and Gazette advertised 'Likenesses Cut With Scissors, in three minutes'. He set out his charges as:

whole length finished figures .............. 3s 6d
seated whole length finished figures ...... 4s
busts .......................................... 2s 6d
horses ........................................ 10s
dogs .......................................... 2s 6d

By way of comparison, his contemporary John Gapp working in the popular resort of Brighton was charging 2s 6d for a full-length figure, 1s 6d for a dog, and a mere 5s for a horse. It seems George White was not under-selling his talents.

The life of a silhouette artist of the time was usually an itinerant one and White was no exception. During 1835 he was working in Stockport before announcing his return to Manchester in August of that year. He is also known to have regularly visited the northern towns of Lancaster, Preston, Blackpool, Kirby Lonsdale and Kendal.

George White cut out his silhouettes and then bronzed or painted over them in watercolour. The stamped profile opposite of Ann Eliza Arkwright is a particularly fine example of his bust-length work. The profile is undated though, given the style of dress, would have been completed early in the artist's career.

White's stencil stamp is more commonly seen on his full-length silhouettes. A recurring feature on these is the use of a background streak of Prussian blue to convey the sea. This feature appears to be unique to the work of George White and so unsigned examples can be confidently attributed to his hand.

The gentleman (below left) is Thomas Sutcliffe, a shipbuilder of Greenock and, in homage to his profession, a sailing ship is visible on the horizon. Whether White ever journeyed as far north as Greenock is unclear. It may be that Mr Sutcliffe was holidaying in the Lake District when the profile was painted.

 

 

 

 

 

When the demand for silhouette likenesses declined during the 1850s George White swapped his paint brush for a camera and took up professional photography. He continued to travel around northern England but always returned home to Blackpool, where he died in 1880 leaving a widow, and a son who did not follow in his father's footsteps.

Acknowledgements
Particular thanks to Brett Payne for uncovering the identity and biographical details of George White. His full and fascinating accounts of George White and his work can be read at Photo-Sleuth .

January 2013


MISS C. H. HUDSON - a little known silhouette artist of tender years mastering a delicate technique

C. H. Hudson, silhouette of a young lady seated

C. H. Hudson, silhouette of a young boy in tail-coat and waistcoat

C. H. Hudson, silhouette of a young baby

Miss Hudson, silhouette of a lady seated holding a miniature

Miss C. H. Hudson is an artist who has long intrigued me. Though rarely seen, her work has great charm and is painted with delicacy. When British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860 was published in 1978, Sue McKechnie had only seen one example of a silhouette by C. H. Hudson and the dearth of information led her to suggest that the artist might be a son of the better-documented silhouette artist, Elizabeth Hudson (née Chilcot). Mrs Hudson, born in Bath between 1750 and 1754, painted silhouettes between 1793 and the early 1800s. She specialized in bust-length profiles reverse-painted on convex glass backed with plaster but may also have used ivory as a base.

From the known examples of Miss Hudson's work, we can deduce that she was painting profiles between 1810 and 1821. The earliest known silhouette, signed 'Painted by/ Miss Hudson/ June 1810/ aged 15', is of a young lady seated facing right and holding a book. It was part of the Willcocks Collection sold by Phillips in 1998. In my own collection I have a similar silhouette of a young lady facing left (shown opposite); it is signed 'Painted/ by/ C. H. Hudson/ Cirencester/ Sept 1818'. This dispels the theory that the artist was male.

Miss C. H. Hudson was therefore born between June 1794 and June 1795. Without knowing her full Christian names it has been impossible to trace her genealogy. If she were a daughter of Elizabeth Hudson, this would put her mother's age between forty and forty-five at the time of her birth. Not impossible, even in the eighteenth century. Elizabeth got married in October 1777 so her eldest son would have been born in 1778 at the earliest. If he were the father of C. H. Hudson (making her a grand-daughter of Elizabeth Hudson) he would only have been seventeen when she was born. That seems less likely so, if the two artists are directly related (and, of course, they may not be), it seems most probable that C. H. was a late daughter of Elizabeth Hudson.

Miss Hudson's profiles are reverse painted on slightly convex glass using a stippled base within an outlined edge with darker linework and cross-hatching. Gold is only used for buttons as demonstrated on the profile of the little boy with his thumb in his pocket (shown opposite). Her finest work is without doubt to be seen in her profiles of children which are well modelled and have good detail. The silhouettes are invariably backed with cream satin stitched over card and set in papier-mâché frames. They are signed on the backing paper (typical signature shown below).

If she was directly related to Elizabeth Hudson, she would no doubt have watched her working and may even have been given some lessons by her but, given how very few examples there are of her work, it is fair to assume that Miss Hudson only painted profiles of her family and friends for her own pleasure and did not paint commercially.

As a footnote, I have seen another curious silhouette in a private collection that is painted in sepia and black on the reverse side of flat glass backed with silk and is signed on the reverse 'Miss Hudson'. The signature is in a different hand (see images below) and the style of painting is more naive but there is a tantalising similarity in the subject matter. This lady is also shown three-quarter-length seated on a wooden chair and is holding a portrait miniature. Her beaded necklace is painted in gold. The style of her dress would also date the piece to the same period. Could this be an earlier, less accomplished effort by C. H. Hudson?

Sample signature by silhouette artist C. H. Hudson
C. H. Hudson, silhouette of a gentleman with folded arms
Signature on the reverse of the sepia profile above


J
OHN DEMPSEY

John Dempsey was a journeyman artist working in England between the 1820s and the 1840s. He produced silhouettes and portraits in various styles but his series of likenesses of public characters are of particular interest as they give us a unique glimpse into everyday life in the towns and cities of Britain at that time. His earliest characters were painted in watercolour with delineated features but by the 1830s he was also cutting and painting his characters in the form of silhouettes. Dempsey was working at the time as Augustin Edouart and it is generally understood that it was Dempsey that Edouart had in mind when, writing in his Treatise, he criticised the use of gold and colour on profiles.

The Tasmanian Art Gallery has recently identified a folio of Dempsey's characters within their collection. It was donated to them in 1956 by an Englishman working in Hobart who may have inherited them from an uncle in London known to have been a collector of nineteenth century art. The contents of the folio are tantalising: portraits of a tailor's assistant, a town crier, a gaol attendant, a buyer of rabbitskins, a lunatic, several beggars, and a whole array of street vendors selling everything from ribbons to muffins. Sadly the portraits are not yet on public display.

Examples of Dempsey's characterful profiles are shown below. The 'Well-Known Whip-Seller in Liverpool' with his pockets stuffed with whips of all sizes has been cut and over-painted with gold with small touches of colour. It is signed and dated 1847.

The 'Guard and Coachman of the Exeter Mail' is a larger portrait featuring three cut figures and making more use of colour. The pencil background shows the coaching inn with the mail coach ready to depart. It is cheekily inscribed 'Bipeds ... Species Peculiar ... nearly extinct'.

'The Bellman Dover' is interesting as an example of a profile with the features painted in full colour.

By contrast the final example has been painted on card and is extensively gilded. Again it shows Dempsey's sense of humour as 'The One-Armed Bill-Poster of Manchester' with his pot of glue strapped to his shoulder appears to be getting ready to paste up an advert for the artist's likenesses.

If anyone has other examples of Dempsey's 'characters' in their collection, I would be happy to add images, and any other information they might have, to this page so an archive of his work may be created.

April 2012 ; updated May 2013

John Dempsey, a cut and painted silhouette of a 19th century  street vendor

John Dempsey, a cut and painted silhouette of public characters

John Dempsey, coloured profile of The Bellman in Dover

John Dempsey, a full-length painted silhouette of a public character


S
HOES FOR LUCK

Early 19th century hand-made pincushion shoes

The fashion-conscious young lady of the early 19th century would always wish to dress in the latest fashion if invited to a ball or a dance at the Assembly Room (were her town lucky enough to have one!). If a new gown was required she would peruse the latest ‘Pocket Book’, a combination diary, memorandum and almanack, with illustrations of the latest fashions and fabrics often the main part of the contents. Most evening dresses would be made up in silk, and silks, especially patterned silks, were relatively expensive.

Fahion plate from an early 19th century pocket book

It may have been for this reason alone that some young ladies took home any leftover off-cuts of their chosen dress fabric. Alternatively they may have wanted to have a memento of a favourite gown or even a wedding gown. These scraps were sometimes made up into small pin cushions in the form of shoes - shoes having long been seen as a symbol of luck connected with weddings. They were labours of love in an era of elegance, when young ladies had the time and patience for needlework. Sadly not many examples have survived.

A rare pair of early 19th century hand-made pincushion shoesA rare pair of pin cushion shoes from a Scottish castle



P
ROLIFIC ANGLO-AMERICAN PROFILE MINIATURE ARTIST

A recent discovery of an incomplete handbill folded into the back of a watercolour profile has prompted this piece on the work of the Anglo-American profile artist James H. Gillespie. Born in 1793, Gillespie began painting silhouettes and portraits around 1815. About ten years later he left the British Isles for a new life in Nova Scotia from where he worked his way down the east coast of America.

Rare early 19th century handbill for James H. Gillespie

The handbill, printed in 1820* to advertise his arrival in the county town of Warwick, demonstrates how prolific an artist Gillespie was as he had already clocked up 17,000 likenesses. He toured the market towns from Northampton through the Midlands into Northern England and into the Scottish Borders. At each location he painted on average 500 profiles in a variety of styles. He was particularly busy in the fast-growing town of Preston where he painted nearly 1,100 likenesses but was less popular in Daventry where he only received 160 commissions.

We don't know how many weeks Gillespie stopped in each town but we can imagine it would have been around two to four weeks in which case he would have needed to complete thirty to forty portraits each day in order to keep up with the demand. This was certainly possible according to his trade label that boasted that a likeness could be captured in just one minute (though this was probably just an outline profile that would have been finished later in the chosen style).

 

 

 

Gillespie's use of mechanical aids, in particular the Physiognograph, would have enabled him to achieve this quick turnaround time. It is to be assumed that device resembled the better-known Physiognotrace which was in turn based on the camera obscura. He also used a micrometer, a device for the precise measurement of small distances. In his handbill Gillespie claims this to be a "new optical contrivance of his own invention by which ... the most minute feature may be measured".
Trade label of James H. Gillespie

In their article Six Choices for the Sitter, Suzanne and Michael Payne detail six distinctive styles of profile offered by Gillespie whilst working in the United States: a simple silhouette with gum arabic highlights; a silhouette without gum arabic but with more watercolour detailing such as strands of hair and eyelashes; a monochrome profile with detailed facial features set against a dark backdrop; a traditional painted silhouette with gilding; a watercolour profile in full colour, the backdrop with brown and blue hatching to the sides; a less detailed full colour profile without any background shading. Most, if not all of these, can also be found in the earlier British examples of his work but, with the discovery of this handbill, a variant on the fully coloured profile has come to light in which the profile appears unfinished and is set against a backdrop of orange-brown and sometimes blue hatching as illustrated by the following examples (the profile on the left contained the handbill). The third example differs in that the dress is fully coloured, it has a bust-line, and the backdrop, whilst in the same colours, is patterned differently. At the same time there are enough similarities to make a convincing attribution to Gillespie.

Profile portrait of Mary Ann Ashcroft
Prolie portrait of Mrs Dupre
Profile portrait of an unknown lady
In addition to the trade label illustrated above and slight variants thereof, I have come across two other labels used by Gillespie whilst working in the British Isles:

* The handbill is undated but has a partial watermark date of [18]20.
Credits:
British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860 / Sue McKechnie. 1978
Six Choices for the Sitter: James H. Gillespie (1793-after 1949) / Suzanne and Michael Payne. AntiquesandFineArt.com
5 September 2010


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Cynthia McKinley
Wigs on the Green Fine Art, York
Tel. +44 (0)1904 794711             Mobile: 07962 257915
Email: enquiries@wigsonthegreen.co.uk