Fire & Brimstone

Augustin Edouart, 1826


As part of a travelling exhibition mounted to promote his work during a tour of Ireland in 1834-5, Augustin Edouart included cut silhouettes of Rev. Charles Simeon of Cambridge and of the late Rev. Edward Irving each shown in ‘nine different attitudes’ to illustrate how the expression of human passion can be successfully conveyed in silhouette.

The Rev. Edward Irving (1792-1834) was a celebrated Scottish clergyman. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh at the age of seventeen and took up a position as tutor before joining the Church. Described as being of ‘dark and melancholy beauty of countenance’ with a commanding stature and a powerful voice, Irving was a flamboyant and controversial preacher. His teachings evolved into a religious movement known as Irvingism and formed the basis of the Catholic Apostolic Church.

Irving’s exuberant style would have appealed to Edouart so, even though Irving had died of tuberculosis in December 1834, Edouart went on to cut nine silhouettes of the preacher in different positions. This fine example shows Irving in full flow, his head thrown back, hand on hip with his left arm pointing heavenward to emphasise his point and to make his congregation cower and tremble. As indeed can be seen in the face of the worried young gentleman in the front row. At least the ladies could hide the fear in their eyes under the wide brims of their wonderful straw bonnets!

The silhouette has been cut from black paper and laid on card with the addition of the preacher’s bands overlaid and painted in white. Remarkably the figure and the pulpit, complete with its lectern and Bible, have been cut as a single piece without any break. The background, showing members of the congregation standing behind wood panelling lit by a gas lamp, has been painted in sepia watercolour.

The silhouette is signed bottom left ‘Augn Edouart fecit / 1836’ and further inscribed ‘Irving’. It is housed in a period carved frame and is in fine condition.

Finding himself exiled in England with a wife and young family to support, Augustin Edouart (1789-1861), opened a shop in Cheltenham selling French curios and artificial flowers but the venture was short-lived and a bankruptcy notice was published in May 1826. He had also tried his hand at creating pictures of animals and landscapes out of hair. These found favour with HRH the Duchess of York who commissioned portraits of her beloved dogs. The work was, however, time-consuming and so failed to be cost-effective. But all was not lost, as Edouart discovered that he had an aptitude for cutting silhouettes and, third time lucky, this venture proved hugely successful. He spent the next fifteen years travelling around the British Isles cutting many thousands of profiles including many authors, musicians, politicians and royalty before setting sail to the United States where again he found favour and success.

Passionate about his art, Edouart kept archive copies of all the profiles he cut. These he pasted into folio volumes meticulously naming each sitter. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, he also kept scrapbooks where he experimented with his art. We are lucky to own one of these practice books, the pages filled with so many wonderful cuttings from dogs and soldiers on horseback to tables and pianos. Also included are several cuttings of Edouart’s two preachers, Simeon and Irving, in various poses as shown in the final two images that are pages within the album. These are not though included with this silhouette.

Item Ref. 6511

Size: framed, 324 x 232mm (12¾ x 9⅛")