The original item from Perry-Joyce Fine Arts is now SOLD.
Large Victorian Hand-Cut Silhouette of a Gentleman by Frith, Dated 1848, in Its Original Rosewood Frame and Arched Gilded Slip
Among the most notable names specializing in silhouettes in the first half of the 19th century, when they were especially popular (especially before the development of photography), are Edouart, Hubbard, and Frith. There were ultimately three members of the Frith family that eventually became known as the Royal Victoria Gallery, the father, John, and his two sons, Frederick and Henry Albert.
Precise information on the Friths has faded into history, but it is known that John Frith was known as a portrait and miniature painter who may have travelled as far as Canada in 1809 to temporarily make a living there. He did exhibit works at the Royal Academy and is listed in the French dictionary of artists compiled by M. Benezit. Works from his two sons date from the 1830s, and after a commission to do the profile of Queen Victoria, the Friths were then able to use “Royal Victoria Gallery” as the name of their firm, which lasted until 1857.
From the wonderfully richly detailed reference, “British Silhouette Artists and Their Work: 1760-1860,” by Sue McKechnie, I have edited the following advertisement for their “elegant Christmas presents” that was placed in the Limerick, Ireland, “Chronical”:
“Paprytomist to His Late as well as to her present Most Gracious Majesty, and to whom most of the brilliant Court of the United Kingdom have sat for Their Likenesses, has the honour of announcing to the Nobility and Gentry of Limerick” (their presence)… “Extraordinary Likenesses taken in one minute. Whole length figures taken in any position…a mere glance being sufficient to secure the most spirited resemblance…Officers in Full or Undress Uniform, Mounted, or on Foot, Horses, Dogs, &c., &c. In short every object in Nature and Art is pourtrayed so instantaneously by Mr. Frith’s Talismanic Scissors, that it has been considered by some to be almost miraculous!”
Today we may find the advertiser’s pomposity amusing, but it is worth noting that he was referring to Frith being Paprytomist (silhouette artist) to King William IV as well as to Queen Victoria.
This fine hand-cut silhouette of an unknown gentleman is both signed by Frith and dated 1848 on the bottom right. Our gentleman is wearing the traditional costume of wealthy and successful men of the early Victorian period. He is wearing a double-breasted waistcoat that just comes to his waist with a suit jacket sporting tails that drop down almost to his knees. It has a wide shawl-type notched collar and lots of buttons. His pants are fitted with wider bottoms and have a ribbon-like striped decoration along the sides. Over a white shirt that was done with white ink is a traditional silk scarf. His collar is pointed up against his face. And to top this all off is a tall top hat with a medium-wide brim. He certainly looks the part of a dandy, if somewhat full-figured.
The gentleman has long whiskers and sideburns as was the style. As all of the Frith’s work the features of his face are finely cut, showing the incredible detail that he was known to provide with only his scissors. Even the shoes illustrate Frith’s talent in showing their square-toed style.
Our subject is posed in a manner that reflects his status in Victorian society. Frith excelled in the use of gilding and bronzing to highlight and create the rounded shapes of a figure with this technique.
The drawing in of the suggestion of ground and grasses, as well as the name of Frith and the date, was done in sepia, the reddish-brown color from the ink sac of cuttlefish. Sepia, known since early Greco-Roman times, was in common use as an artist’s drawing material until the 19th century; sepia ink was used for writing, drawing and as a colored wash by Leonardo da Vinci.
The work is housed in its original Victorian rosewood frame and beautiful arched gilded slip. The wood of the rosewood frame has exceptional patination and has acquired a deep, rich mahogany color. It also still has its original bubbled and wavy hand-made glass. This is a classic presentation of the work of one of the most talented Victorian silhouette cutters.
The condition is superb. There is some overall age toning to the paper, which has turned a creamy beige color. There are a very few minor age spots, but nothing to detract from one’s enjoyment from this exquisite and elegant work of art. It is one of the best Frith silhouettes of a gentleman that I’ve been fortunate enough to come across, and one of the largest as well.
This is an extremely desirable and collectible piece not only because of the quality of the cutting and the fabulous frame, but also because it is signed and dated by one of the most popular and talented silhouette cutters in England in Regency and Victorian times.
It measures 11-3/4 inches wide by 15 inches high, including the frame.
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