Hellfire & Brimstone!

Augustin Edouart, 1830s


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; whether he the different poses from memory or whilst sitting in the congregation is hard to say. Passionate about his art, Edouart kept archive copies of all the profiles he cut. These he pasted into folio volumes, meticulously annotating each sitter. Some of the archive volumes included profiles with watercolour backgrounds so, in addition to being a record of his work, they served as an excellent marketing tool to demonstrate his ability and to encourage commissions upon arrival in a new location.

This silhouette is a leaf that has been extracted from one of those folio volumes with back to back silhouettes of the preacher each retaining the folio page number top right and top left. The recto shows the Rev. Edward Irving in full flow, his head thrown back and both arms raised as he drives home his homily and makes his congregation tremble. There was no chance of anyone nodding off during his sermon!

This silhouette of the preacher and his lectern complete with a Bible has been cut from black paper as a single piece and laid on the page. The background, showing members of the congregation before a tall leaded window with a gas lamp in the foreground, has been painted in sepia watercolour and is inscribed along the bottom ‘Revd Edwd Irving’.

The verso shows a second silhouette of Irving leaning back, arms folded, as he studies his congregation. The position of the gas lamp suggests he is speaking from a different pulpit, this one with a canopy. It is similarly inscribed with his name along the bottom edge.

The silhouettes are housed in a later ebonised frame with a carved and gilded slip. The frame is not double-glazed so only the first profile (arms thrown back) is visible. That silhouette is in good condition, the only flaws being a small closed tear across the word ‘Revd’ and a creased corner that is concealed by the frame. The  silhouette on the verso has suffered small losses and surface wear as shown in the images.

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 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. These also served as an excellent marketing tool to encourage new commissions as he arrived in new cities. 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 of pages from the album. These are not though included in the sale of this silhouette.

Item Ref. 6849

Size: framed, 426 x 331mm (16¾ x 13")

Provenance: David Ker Fine Art