‘Captain Quiff’

Hamlet the Elder


With his floppy quiff, high forehead and prominent nose, this officer made for the perfect sitter and the artist, William Hamlet, has certainly done him justice! The silhouette is reverse painted on convex glass; a needle has been cleverly used to scratch out the braiding on his coat and the epaulette.

Being on convex glass, the profile throws a shadow on to the backing card. It is housed in the original papier-mâché frame with a star hanger. The silhouette has a little paint loss to the cravat and a scratch to the nose (did Hamlet’s needle slip?). The frame has a chip to the top right corner and some nibbles to the sides. There is a fragment of an old inscription on the reverse that is tricky to decipher.

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 on 11 November 1772. He would then have been in his early twenties. Hamlet got married in 1779 in Salisbury to eighteen year old Elizabeth Morgan. Being illiterate, Elizabeth signed the register with a cross mark. The couple went on to have five children including twins. Following a career that peaked with Royal patronage, William Hamlet died in poverty in Bath in 1822 having been pre-deceased by his eldest son who had by then joined him in the business. If his recorded age of 73 was correct, it would place his birth in 1748 or 1749.

For Hamlet’s story in full visit  William Hamlet the Elder

Item Ref. 7405

Size: framed, 121 x 104mm (5 x 4")