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.

Records show that Henry Readhead was paying the land tax of £60, and so was presumably resident, at No. 54 between 1798 and 1804. But a surprising notice published in The London Gazette reveals that silhouette painting was not Henry’s main occupation as “Henry Readhead and Eliza Ward perfumers of Upper Norton Street” had been declared bankrupt in December 1797. Presumably the pair sold perfume rather than distilled it. Perhaps the location of their outlet was unsuited to such a venture.

The only other mention of Henry Readhead that has so far been traced is his discharge from Fleet Prison in March 1806 where he had been sent for an outstanding debt to Charles Hedges and one other. Whether this was connected with the failed business is not known.

Profile of David Porter (1746/7-1819). Private Collection

What is known that had Henry Readhead kept to silhouette painting, he could have ranked alongside John Miers and Isabella Beetham as a top profilist.

© Wigs on the Green
Research assistance by B. Wellings