Reading The Observer

Hubard Gallery, 1820s

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This well-detailed cut and gilded silhouette conversation piece shows a young family at home in an elegant and well-furnished interior. Wearing a tail-coat, the father is holding a copy of The Observer newspaper. His wife is wearing all her finery: her patterned dress has demi-gigot sleeves and is worn with a fur boa. She has also donned her best jewels including gold chains, a miniature portrait bracelet, pendant earrings and a gold heart necklace. Her upswept hair is secured with a large comb and topped with a frothy laced cap. Their child, wearing a belted patterned dress and pantaloons, reaches out to retrieve his toy whip from their playful puppy.

The cut profiles are laid on card against a neatly painted watercolour wash background that depicts a carpeted salon with a fine painting on the wall and a landscape view though the paned window. The artistic attention to detail includes marble veining on the wall beneath the window, the shadow of the chair and an open door to the side.

Although unsigned, the silhouette has been firmly ascribed to the Hubard Gallery on the basis of comparison with a similar signed work. It is in fine condition with light age darkening to the top middle area, a light horizontal scratch under the window that runs slightly into the gentleman’s coat and an old gum mark on the dog’s tail.

The silhouette is set with old glass in its original gilt wood frame. The frame is likewise in good condition with small losses (bottom corner), old cracking to the inner crenellated border and touches of re-gilding; nonetheless it remains sturdy and very serviceable.

The Hubard Gallery was established in 1822 by a businessman seeking to exploit the precocious talents of the child cutter, William James Hubard. To keep up with demand as the Gallery went on tour, several artists with differing styles and abilities were employed. These artists were rarely credited though as the profiles were all marketed under the Hubard Gallery banner.

Overall a fine and well-provenanced silhouette conversation piece.

Item Ref. 7172

Size: framed, 474 x 533mm (18⅝ x 21")

Provenance: Lady Betty Shackleton, daughter-in-law of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton & wife of geographer and politician Sir Edward