A Regency Couple

William Hamlet the Elder


It’s always pleasing to find a pair of silhouettes that have successfully stayed together for generations. Neatly painted on convex glass by William Hamlet the Elder, these silhouettes show an unnamed couple: he wears a double-breasted coat over a frilled chemise and a waistcoat with a standing collar; his wife wears a décolleté dress with a delicately figured ruff collar fill-in and a gipsy style hat with a flat crown. She has accessorised her outfit with a pearl necklace and hoop earrings.

The profiles are painted in black with transparent shades of grey adding costume detail and texture. A needle has been used to scratch the gent’s side-whiskers and the lady’s curls. Both profiles are backed with white plaster and housed in traditional papier-mâché frames with matching rose hangers. The gentleman is backed with the artist’s unbroken label in Hamlet’s own handwriting – ‘Hamlet / Profile Painter / 17 Union Passage / Bath’. The following two lines have faded to become illegible but may actually be the sitter’s name. The lady’s label has unfortunately been removed with only a few letters and the concluding inked line remaining.

The silhouettes date to around 1805. There is a small area of delamination to the lady’s cheek and some dust caught under the glass of the gentleman but otherwise both profiles are in good condition and will display well.

William Hamlet’s country of birth remains a mystery but a recent discovery in the Bath Abbey Register has revealed that ‘William Hamlet a Negro’ was baptized there on 11 November 1772. He would have been in his early twenties at the time. Hamlet married eighteen year old Elizabeth Morgan in 1779 in Salisbury. Elizabeth was illiterate as the register was signed by her mark only. The couple went on to have five children including twins. In 1788, Hamlet was permitted to paint a profile of King George III during his stay at Cheltenham. The King rewarded him well and further royal commissions followed boosting Hamlet’s career. A full account of his life and career can be read here.

Item Ref. 6958

Size: framed, 120 x 106mm

Provenance: Phillips Son & Neale, 1987 ; Estate of Paula Peyraud