The Missionary’s Children

Charles Hervé II (c1785-1866)


Dating to around 1844, this attractive cut and painted silhouette conversation piece shows three siblings: Frederic in a tunic with a tasseled belt holding a cut-out toy sailing ship, his older sister Emily in a tiered dress and pantaloons holding flowers and the baby, John Henry Martyn, seated on the grass clutching a posy of flowers.

The children’s father, Johann Jakeb Weitbrecht, was born and educated in Germany from where he travelled to India as a missionary. There he met and married a young English lady, Martha Edwards. At some point, possibly upon his marriage, Johann Jakeb anglicised his name to John James. It appears that the couple lost several children to cholera; indeed Frederic died when just fourteen years old. Emily and John Henry survived into adulthood. Emily married Theodor Christlieb and had a daughter whilst John Henry graduated from Oxford in 1862 and was later called to the bar. At some point he assumed his mother’s maiden name as his surname.

The silhouette is cut and finely gilded with Chinese white highlights for Frederic’s collar and Emily’s neckline. The garden background is also painted in watercolour. The reverse side has the artist’s stencil stamp – HERVÉ / Artist / 172 OXFORD ST.

Multi-talented, Charles Hervé II was a professional fruit-grower and a professor of music as well as the inventor of a mechanical device for drawing the outline of silhouettes which he named ‘Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist’. He exhibited this device around the country as a great curiosity. A contemporary handbill claimed that it could ‘produce more perfect resemblances than any living artist [could] possibly execute’ while an advertisement in The Examiner (1826) claimed that to ‘witness this extraordinary performance, but One Shilling is required from each visitor … from Tea till Dusk’.

The silhouette is housed in the original bird’s eye maple veneer frame with a gilt slip. It is in good condition but has inevitable age-browning to the background card. There has been an attempt to clean this (possibly with an eraser) which has resulted in surface rubbing around the girl’s head and the elder boy’s face. The only other minor flaw to mention is a small area of paint loss around the baby’s foot. None of these flaws are all that apparent though when the silhouette is hanging and viewed within its frame.

Item Ref. 6790

Size: framed, 346 x 403mm (13⅝ x 15⅞")