Lea of Portsmouth – a new identity

4th June 2023
John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

Lea’s profiles are prized by collectors not just for their distinctive and appealing style but also for their comparative rarity. Carefully painted on the underside of convex glass in shades of translucent grey, they always show the sitter’s facial features and costume details using a combination of fine stippling, short brushstrokes and scratching out. His profiles are typically finished with three narrow verre églomisé borders in gold, then backed with plaster and housed in papier-mâché frames. Lea did not use a printed trade label but some works were signed on the blue backing paper ‘Lea, Portsmouth’.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

Being a naval base and a garrison town, Portsmouth guaranteed Lea a steady clientele of officers seeking portraits to send home as mementoes. Each portrait would have taken many hours of painstaking work so perhaps it is no surprise that Lea’s output was limited.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

Owing to what is now recognised to have been a mis-read inscription on the back of one of his silhouettes, Lea’s first name has traditionally been recorded as ‘Arthur’. Fresh research has, however, now proved that his first name was actually John.

John Lea was born in early 1768 – probably in Portsmouth – though no confirmed record of his birth has been traced. At the age of 21 in June 1790, he married a local girl, Elizabeth Nelson, at St Thomas’s (now the Anglican cathedral). The marriage index lists him as a ‘gent’. The young couple settled to live at Grand Parade in Portsmouth, a central and prestigious address and, between 1791 and 1809, had four sons and five daughters, though three children did not survive infancy.

The lack of a printed trade label suggests that painting silhouettes was not John Lea’s primary source of income and this is borne out by the Universal British Directory for 1792 that lists amongst the residents of Portsmouth ‘John Lea, glazier’. He was not the only artist from the period to have traded as a glazier and chosen to paint silhouettes on glass, John Woodhouse of Newcastle being another example. The trade would have given them ready access to suitable glass and both men may have honed their painting skills on stained glass projects.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

At some point John and Elizabeth became members of the Non-Conformist Church, perhaps swept up by the fervour surrounding the newly opened independent King Street Chapel in nearby Portsea in 1813. In November of that year they had their three youngest children baptised there – James would have been eleven, Mary Ann eight and Eliza four years old.

The next major event in the Leas’ family life was a move to London which occurred some time between 1814 and 1823. The reason for uprooting the family is hard to fathom as neither John nor Elizabeth appear to have had family connections in London. Perhaps John had acquired a patron for his art who persuaded him to make the move to further his artistic career. Their new home was 6 Great Charlotte Street off Blackfriars Road. It was from this address that John Lea exhibited a portrait (undoubtedly one of his silhouettes) of the Non-conformist preacher Rev. J. Angel James at the Royal Academy. It must have been a great coup for Lea to have seen his work hung alongside miniatures by the likes of George Engleheart and Andrew Robertson.

The final official record for John Lea is the notice in the Hampshire Telegraph (3 March 1828) that announced his death at the age of sixty ‘leaving a wife and several children’. The obituary gives an insight to his personality making mention of his

superior natural intelligence – his various knowledge – his conversational talents – his unaffected piety and the active benevolence of his character . . .

 The same newspaper announced his wife’s death in 1842 –

at her residence in London, Mrs Elizabeth Lea, relict of Mr John Lea, artist, formerly of the Grand Parade, Portsmouth in her 77th year. Her end was peace.

Lea was an accomplished artist and it is satisfying to have uncovered his true identity and to now know more of his life story.


Merryweather – From Boom to Bust

26th August 2022

Edward Merryweather was not a prolific silhouette artist so verified examples of his work are few and far between, making them prized amongst collectors. Recent research has revealed that he took up silhouette cutting late in life having previously worked in two other lines of business.

© Wigs on the Green

Merryweather cut both full- and bust-length silhouettes which were then finely bronzed. Some full-length profiles were over-painted in shades of grey watercolour and Chinese white with bronzed highlights. A stylistic trait that helps in the identification of his work is a patterned floor of concentric circles and S-shapes.

Edward Merryweather was born around 1775 in a district of Doncaster known as Red House. His parents have not been traced; he had an older brother, John, who became a saddler and trunk maker with premises on Doncaster High Street.

Edward’s first career was as a builder in the neighbouring town of Conisbrough. It was there that he met and, in May 1811, married Essex-born Catharine Miles. Their first two children were born in Doncaster: Emma in January 1814 and George Edward in June 1817. Edward Merryweather was prospering, so much so that around 1818 he invested in a small plot of land at Red House where he then built at least one house.

If the family lived in the newly-built house, it was only for a few years as by March 1826, when their third child Julia was born, they were living in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. As well as a new home, Edward also had a new career as an art dealer. His property development schemes must have generated substantial capital as by 1828 Merryweather had a gallery at Wright’s Court in Manchester. Close to the busy Market Street, Wright’s Court attracted a select group of small businesses including a wine merchant, a bookseller and an engraver.

When Merryweather advertised his gallery in the Manchester Courier (27 Sept. 1828) he had in stock ‘genuine and capital pictures, by the very first Masters’. It was a collection that was top-heavy with 17th century Baroque artists including Van Dyck and Salvador Rosa. Even in the 1820s such paintings required a sizeable investment. Merryweather sourced his stock at local auctions. At Christie’s Tabley House sale in July 1827 he purchased the star lot – ‘Intruding Puppies’ by Edwin Landseer – for a cool £173 5s (the equivalent of £20,000 today). The painting was subsequently sold on to a Yorkshire art collector.

Merryweather’s art dealing career continued into the 1840s. The 1841 Census shows him as a Picture Merchant still living in Cheetham with his wife and 15-year-old daughter. But all was not well. It would appear that Merryweather had a problem with cashflow as in late 1841 he put three of his houses up for auction. He also moved with his family back to Doncaster. It was not enough though to stave off disaster as in June 1844 he was made bankrupt and imprisoned in York Castle (Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June 1844). Having served four months, he was conditionally discharged.

This marked the end of Merryweather’s career as an art dealer and signalled his new career as a silhouette artist. This may have been an earlier hobby or he may have learned to cut silhouettes during his time in prison, perhaps inspired by a fellow inmate? His work was professional: neatly cut and well-finished. He either signed Merryweather or used a stencil stamp on the reverse.

Cut and painted full-length silhouette of an academic gentleman by Merryweather

© Wigs on the Green

By the time of the 1851 Census Edward Merryweather was 76, working as an artist from 64 Cleveland Street, Doncaster. Still living with him was his wife Catharine and their 25 year old daughter Julia, a milliner and dressmaker. Edward Merryweather died that same year in May 1851 and was buried at St George’s in Doncaster.

Following Edward’s death his family upped sticks and moved back to Manchester. His widow continued to live with their younger daughter, Julia, until her death in 1867. By then, their elder daughter, Emma, had married a Manchester schoolmaster and had one child Fanny, whilst Julia had three children, Eleanor Florence, Henry, and Samuel out of wedlock. She was 44 before she finally married a coachman, Thomas Bates, in 1870. Economical with the truth, she knocked a few years off her age claiming to be 36, her new husband being 37! No further trace of their son, George Edward, has been found.

Edward Merryweather, cur silhouette

© Private Collection


Miss Charlotte Addington (1801-1870)

27th January 2022


Cut silhouette by Charlotte AddingtonThis signed work is the only known silhouette by Charlotte Addington to have been recorded. The small figures are cut as a single piece from glossy black paper and have been laid onto cream silk. It is an accomplished piece as the figures are well-balanced with each one showing movement. The stiffness of straight lines often associated with amateur profiles has been successfully avoided.

Charlotte may have been inspired to try her hand at cutting silhouettes by the publication of Groups of Figures from Cuttings in Black Paper: Intended as Lessons for Instruction in Paper Cutting. Based on cuttings by Miss Barbara Anne Townshend, this book was first published in 1808 when Charlotte was seven years old. A further edition retitled Introduction to the Art of Cutting Groups of Figures, Flowers, Birds, Etc. in Black Paper was published in 1815 when Charlotte was fourteen years old.

The text advised would-be cutters not to draw out their design beforehand but to cut it freehand – ‘by drawing the designs first it takes greatly from the merit of cutting …’. Another influence may have been the genre cuttings made by Princess Elizabeth. Although these were cut in the 1790s, before Charlotte was born, she may have had access to them at Windsor Castle.

Born in 1801, Charlotte was the sixth child of Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth and his wife Ursula Mary Hammond. Her grandfather was physician to William Pitt the Elder and so her father became a lifelong friend of William Pitt the Younger. It may have been their influence that drew Addington into politics. He served as British Prime Minister between 1801 and 1804 and then as Home Secretary.

Whilst Prime Minister, King George III gifted Addington the use of White Lodge in Richmond Park and this is where Charlotte and her siblings grew up and where Charlotte cut this silhouette. The silhouette is undated but is estimated to have been cut around 1815-1820.

Cut silhouette by Charlotte Addington

Charlotte was 37 years old when she married the Rev. Horace Gore Currie in May 1838. The couple continued to live at White Lodge until Henry Addington’s death in 1844 whereupon they moved to Sevenoaks where Charlotte died in 1870. They had no children. White Lodge subsequently became home to various members of the Royal Family until in 1855 Sadler’s Wells was granted permanent use of the building to house the Royal Ballet School.


Mrs Hudson – A Lady of Many Parts

2nd January 2022

The discovery of hitherto unknown newspaper advertisements placed by Mrs Hudson between 1779 and 1802 has revealed the diversity of her career.

Born in Bath in 1753, Elizabeth was the first child of Henry and Ann Chilcot. Her sisters, Harriet and Ann, were born in 1754 and 1755 respectively. Their father (bap. 1730) was apprenticed to a jeweller and goldsmith before being taken on as a ‘principal workman’ for James Bellis, jeweller and toyman of Pall Mall.

By 1773 Henry Chilcot had his own jewellery business that he advertised in the Bath Chronicle. What set his business apart from his rivals was the ‘inimitable hair work’ offered courtesy of his daughter, Elizabeth. Accomplished in the art, Elizabeth created portraits and landscapes in chopped hair as well as pieces with urns, altars and trees for mourning miniatures. The adverts proclaimed her ‘a genius far superior to any who ever yet attempted that ingenious art’. Given the proliferation of miniature painters working in Bath at that time, Elizabeth would not have been short of work.

It was previously believed that Elizabeth’s mother was the Mrs Chilcot who ran a boarding school for young ladies but this was actually her aunt by marriage. Her mother, Ann Chilcot, died in 1775 and was buried in Bath Abbey ‘near ye Pillar at end of ye Charity School Girls Seat’. Her father’s death has not been traced but he possibly died in 1777, the latest advert for his jewellery shop having appeared in December 1776.

On 7 October 1777 Elizabeth Chilcot married William Hudson of a neighbouring parish by special license obtained that same day with a bond of £200. Given that Elizabeth was 24 years old, the license may have been required for expediency if she was pregnant. Alternatively her family may have opposed the marriage or there may have been a large age gap between the couple. Significantly the marriage was not witnessed by either family but by John Dover, a local innkeeper, and his mother. On the licence application William gave his occupation as ‘apothecary & surgeon’ yet no record of him working in that profession has been traced. Indeed no biographical details for William Hudson can be verified whilst later evidence suggests his occupation may have been quite different.

The newly weds’ immediate movements are obscure. Mrs Hudson’s first known advert appeared two years later in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette (23 September 1779) when ‘Mrs Hudson (late Miss Chilcot) from Bath’ is offering ‘striking likenesses’ in the sitter’s own hair that are ‘superior to those in colours’. What prompted her return to hair work is unclear. If her husband truly was an apothecary-surgeon there should have been no need for her to work. No further adverts have been traced until January 1882 when she has returned to Birmingham from having created ‘upwards of sixty’ likenesses in hair over four months spent in Gloucester. By February 1783 she has ventured to Oxford before moving on to Reading and Winchester. The following Spring she is offering her hair work in Gosport and Portsmouth.

Around this time Mrs Hudson’s career took a surprising turn as in 1787 she appeared on stage alongside a Mrs Gibbs in a short piece entitled ‘Muses in Motion’ at the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, Whitechapel. Opened in 1787, the Royalty Theatre could accommodate an audience of 2,594 so it would have taken a lot of self-confidence to have performed there especially as a debut. The General Magazine were not enamoured of her performance but when she returned in September with ‘Sketches from Nature, or, Beaux and Belles Have at Ye’ they praised her ‘genius and animation’ in what was ‘an elegant and lively trifle’. The review went on to applaud Mrs Hudson’s good domestic character and claimed that ‘the benefit of her husband led her again to the stage’. This surely suggests that Mr Hudson was a thespian and not an apothecary-surgeon and that it was his influence that led Mrs Hudson to her new career.

The Royal Brunswick Theatre, Wellclose Square which replaced the Royalty Theatre in 1828 after it burned down (The Mirror, 1828).

In late 1789, Mrs Hudson was on tour in Herefordshire with a new routine, ‘Exhibition, Dramatic Brush &c’. According to the Hereford Journal (18 November 1789), Mrs Hudson played to a crowded house with a ‘witty and pointed’ lecture delivered with ‘genius and animation’ with ‘excellent’ songs, ‘good poetry and music’. No mention is made of Mr Hudson so it may have been a one-woman show.

Between October 1789 and September 1791, Mrs Hudson continued to tour the provinces with her ‘Exhibition & Dramatic Brush’ with the addition of a popular new sketch, ‘Royal Procession to St Paul’s’, in celebration of the King’s recovery and his going to St Paul’s on St George’s Day. The performance now included songs by Mr Hudson. Following upwards of 50 nights at the Royalty Theatre they performed in Worcester, Monmouth, Hereford, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Stamford sometimes to coincide with a Race Meet or an annual Mart. The Stamford Mercury (22 October 1790) gave Mrs Hudson a glowing review –

© The British Library

Between September 1791 and May 1793, no advertisements have been traced so this appears to be the period when she was engaged by Secard’s Gallery in London. Lewis Secard was a well-known picture dealer with a gallery on Pall Mall where, in addition to his art dealing, he liked to hold exhibitions and entertainments. He advertised, for instance, an intriguing show of ‘Philosophical Fireworks (produced from inflammable air)’ to be accompanied by a performance on musical glasses! Perhaps Mrs Hudson was talent-spotted by Secard and invited to perform her ‘Exhibition’ at his gallery. Being surrounded by fine art may have been the prompt for her to try her hand at painting profiles for the first time and to experiment with wax modelling.

Lewis Secard died suddenly in March 1793; the following month Elizabeth Hudson was back on the road with her ‘Exhibition’. But now she had new skills and for the first time, advertising herself as ‘Mrs Hudson (from the late Secard’s Pall-Mall, and Cavendish Street)’, she offered wax modelling and ‘likenesses in miniature profile painted on glass’ (Oxford Journal, 29 March 1794). Proud of her association with Secard’s Gallery she commissioned her first trade label.

It was the Oxford advert that proved beyond doubt that the performing Mrs Hudson and the silhouette artist were one and the same person –

© The British Library

Over the next couple of years Mrs Hudson added wax modelling, colour miniatures on ivory and profiles for bracelets and lockets to her repertoire. Significantly in 1796 she was joined in her art business by her son. His details though remain obscure.

In 1797 the business took a new turn when Mr and Mrs Hudson ‘from the theatres, London and last of Cambridge’ appeared for one night only at the Theatre Royal in Manchester with ‘As You Like It, or, A Laughable Exhibition’ that included an address by Mrs Hudson with songs by her husband and a selection from Mr Collins’s* ‘Evening Brush’. Afterwards Mrs Hudson was to ‘draw the pictures of the audience . . . in such a style that the outlines shall not offend nor the colouring afford a shadow of disgust’. It’s difficult to see how this would have worked in a large and crowded theatre but it was certainly a novel way to engage with the audience.

This is the last known advert for Mr and Mrs Hudson’s theatrical career; perhaps Mr Hudson died around this time. Now in her mid-forties, Mrs Hudson moved to Liverpool where, from 1798, she and her son continued to offer wax modelling as well as likenesses in miniature and miniature profile in a ‘new and elegant style’ from Paradise Street with the enticing strapline – ‘the tide of fashion still flows towards their habitation’. Centrally located, Paradise Street was indeed a desirable address though not their only one as the Hudsons also had a house in Christleton near Chester where specimens of their work could be viewed.

But Elizabeth Hudson was not quite ready to disappear into retirement and had one last surprising venture to try: 21 July 1802 was the proposed opening date for Mrs Hudson’s School for young ladies. Based at her home in Christleton, she planned to have twelve boarders who, for 18 Guineas a year, would be taught English grammar and needlework. Writing, accounts, music, French and dancing were offered as extras. It’s not known whether her venture came to fruition as no further adverts for her school have been traced.

Regrettably Mrs Hudson’s trail goes cold at this point. No record of her death or burial can be found. Just as Mr Hudson disappeared, so too does Elizabeth and her son. Nor can any information be found to link her to the C.H. Hudson who was painting charming silhouettes on glass between 1811 and 1821 in the Bath/Cirencester area.

*Mr Collins, author of ‘Evening Brush’ was married to Mrs Collins, the silhouette artist but that’s a whole other story!

John Patey

26th January 2021

Between 21 April and 12 July 1786 John Patey ran 23 advertisements in the Dublin paper Saunders’s News-Letter and Daily Advertiser offering “Profile Shade Likenesses in Miniature” painted on a “Composition perfectly white”. He promised “animated and striking Likenesses” with a sitting time of just 3 minutes. Complete with gilt frames, he charged between 6s 6d and 7s 7d apiece. During his short stay in Dublin, Patey was, according to his adverts, based at 65 Dame Street, a four-storey red-brick townhouse on a busy thoroughfare that connected the Parliament House and the Castle.

His trade label though gave his address as “Wheatley’s near the Bridge, Donnybrook”. Donnybrook at that time was a small village about 3 miles south of Dublin. It was also the location of an annual fair that ran for two weeks every August so perhaps Patey had a booth at the fair.

Donnybrook Fair in 1835

In his adverts, John Patey claimed to be from London. Curiously there is no evidence that he advertised in any of the London papers. He did though have a London trade label that until now has been mistakenly read as T. Patey and so accredited in the literature to a Thomas Patey of Argyll Street. Recent research, however, shows that Thomas Patey was a victualer (or grocer) by trade and not an artist. The label has no address so it has not been possible to trace his true details.

Miss Sophia Bishton

There are only about four confirmed examples of Patey’s work each neatly painted on white plaster and with a double-loop bust-line. They are mostly presented in pressed brass oval frames. It would be of great interest to know if there are any other surviving Patey profiles.

Henry Readhead (Redhead)

26th May 2020

Little is known about the silhouette artist Henry Readhead who was working during the 1790s. His style of painting is distinctive but yet there are only a handful of known examples of his work. Where there has been provenance or sitters have been named, there is a link to Yorkshire so it’s possible that he may have had northern connections.

His profiles are reverse painted on convex glass in an accomplished and detailed style. The face is painted in solid black with the hair and attire painted in transparency with individual brush strokes visible. The bracketed bust-line is a consistent feature. When he signed his work, Readhead added his studio address –  54 Upper Norton St, Fitzroy Square, London. Norton Street was popular with painters and sculptors — Richard Wilson, the landscape painter and Sir David Wilkie, the Scottish painter both has studios there during the 1770s and 80s. … (show more)

C. H. Hudson – a little known artist of tender years mastering a delicate technique

26th May 2020

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, Sue McKechnie had only seen one example of a silhouette by C. H. Hudson and this dearth of information led her to suggest that the artist may 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.
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Thomas Johnson of Harrogate

26th May 2020


Although 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 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 unnamed lady adds to his known body of work. It was previously sold by Sotheby’s in May 1977 when it fetched the top silhouette price of the day.

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W. M. Young

18th May 2020

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.

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