Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More Q and A on Sentimental Jewelry

Kate asks:

Q: Is the jewellery we wear much more than a possession?

A: Yes, sentimental jewelry holds more emotional sway than other mere possessions. Sentimental jewelry are deeply personal jewels that record and memorialize emotion and important life events. This ability to carry emotional connections rests at the heart of sentimental jewelry, and artists and jewelers were well aware of this functional aspect of sentimental objects. For example, Charles Fraser, in his eulogy for fellow miniaturist Edward Greene Malbone, wrote, “He imparted such life to the ivory, and produced such striking resemblances, that they will never fail to perpetuate the tenderness of friendship, to divert the care of absence, and to aid affection in dwelling on those features and that image, which death has forever wrested in it.” Whether that sentiment was love, friendship, or mourning, sentimental jewelry spoke to the sensibility – an emotional consciousness and an acute apprehension of feeling – of its owner, and it synecdochically represented a loved one by incorporating fragments of the body (hair, eyes, mouth, hands, breasts, face, shadow, and even teeth) into the artifact. In this way, sentimental jewelry commoditized the human body and literally reified a human relationship.

Q: How has the meaning of sentiment changed over time within jewellery but also within our society? And why these changes have happened.

A: This is a really big question and one that I cover in more depth in my dissertation than the space of a blog allows, but I'll try to sketch an answer.

With the industrial revolution, changes in manufacturing yielded a change in material culture that in turn yielded a change in the pattern of consumption. Prior to the industrial revolution, artisans tended to manufacture small numbers of very expensive gem-encrusted items to meet the demands of the aristocracy for luxury goods. Portrait miniatures and eye miniatures painted with watercolor on thin ivory disks as well as larger portraits painted in oil on canvas are typical examples of artisan manufactured goods consumed by the landed aristocracy. Following the maturation of the industrial revolution, portrait and eye miniatures ceased to be produced. They were replaced by mass produced jewelry, especially mourning jewelry, and Daguerreotype photography. The reduced expense of these goods coupled with their wide availability allowed for middle class consumption of sentimental objects.

Where the aristocracy augmented their jewelry with hair, the bourgeoisie constructed jewelry almost entirely of hair. With this change can be discerned a change in class perception of body fragmentation that mirrors the changes in economic and productive re-organization of society. For the aristocracy, whose wealth was largely underwritten by agrarian capitalism or merchant capitalism, the fragmentation of the body corresponded to the fragmentation of the family and extended relationships, friends and lovers. Their jewelry functioned as the contemplative locus of pensive reverie, and the body fragment itself – the face in the portrait miniature, eye, and hair – synecdochically represented the separated loved one(s). For the urban bourgeoisie, extensive long-term travel did not dominate their lives. Their body fragmentation increasingly reflected a compartmentalization of perception, a disaggregated and mechanistic view of the body in science, medicine, industry, and discourse. The fragmentation of the family shifted from periodic absence to death, and mourning became an explosive new industry in the nineteenth century. Mourning attire, art, jewelry, stationary, photographic portraiture of the deceased, mourning ritual, and period of mourning became codified and standardized. Even the pin factory, Adam Smith’s classic example of industrial manufacturing, was not exempt from production for mourning. Mourning pins with black steel shafts and black glass heads were mass produced and were considered appropriate for mourning dress – a shiny steel pin would upset the somber gravity of the plain all black attire. All of this marks a dramatic change in the attitudes toward death and the practice of mourning in the eighteenth century.

Q: Do we now show our sentiment towards one another in a different way?

A: Yes and no. Sentimental jewelry of the type I write about really ceased to be produced much after the first world war. Instead, birth stones, mother's rings, and diamond engagement rings became standard ways of expressing relationships in the twentieth century. Though some may still keep a lock of their baby's hair or a lock from a dead parent, these relics by and large do not find their way into jewelry. Twentieth century jewelry of sentiment moved away from incorporating body fragments, which are now seen as largely macabre. However, I have become interested in the mourning memorials people place on the windshields of their cars, such as "In Memory of My Beloved Brother, John Doe, Jan. 1 1980 - Jan. 1 2005."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Acrostics are Fine, but how about Suffragette Jewelry?

Carolyn asks: "Would be interested in knowing what your thoughts are on so called sufferagette jewerly. Seems to be two schools of thought, that it existed, and the other that it is bunk. The letters of the color of each gem in that case would spell the acrostic message Give Women Votes."

Great question. Kenneth Florey wrote the best article I have seen on this topic, and you can find it HERE.

I agree with him that Suffragette Jewelry is bunk. To summarize his main reasons: 1) no suffrage organization had green, white, and violet as their official colors, 2) one organization used purple, green, and white as their colors, however they were explicit as to the symbolic meanings of the colors, which were not meant to be acrostics, and 3) none used the slogan "give women the vote." I would add, as I noted in the acrostics post, that color (I.E. green for "g") was never used in acrostics, rather the names of the stones lent the acrostic letters. I hope that helps. Best, Kyle

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Making Silent Stones Speak: Understanding Acrostic Jewelry

If you want to know what gems have to say, you need to learn the language of stones. For it is with this secret language that sentimental messages may be written in the form of jewelry. Stones “speak” through their arrangement in jewelry such that the first letter of the name of each stone, when considered in order, spells an acrostic motto, saying, wish, slogan, or amorous tiding. Acrostic jewelry appears to have begun in France in the earliest nineteenth or perhaps the latest eighteenth century. Popular in England, France, and America, acrostic jewelry spoke to a romantic sensibility reminding one to regard the giver through short phrases or words. For example, “regard” may be formed by this particular combination of stones:


Mid nineteenth century regard brooch spelled in paste.

Top: Early nineteenth century regard ring spelled in natural stones.
Bottom: Regard ring in natural stones hallmarked for Birmingham, England, 1848.

As with any language, we should begin with the alphabet.

Makers of contemporary acrostic jewelry fill in most of the missing letters, like “Y” with yellow zircon or “F” with fire opal, but antique jewelry never used the color of the stone or other qualifying adjectives as part of the acrostic. Most Victorian mottos could be spelled from the available stones above, but occasionally a zircon could be used in the rare instances that a “Z” was needed. The most common acrostic mottos are “regard” or “regards” and “dearest.” I have seen one gold brooch in the shape of a fountain pen-tip set with a Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, and Ruby to spell “Dear,” the first word written when addressing a letter. Less common acrostics include “adore” and “love,” which is spelled:

Vermeil (an archaic name for garnet)

Similarly, I have seen one French eternity band ring spelling “Je t’aime” (I love you):


Acrostic jewelry emerged at a time of intense interest in acrostic poetry, hieroglyphic epistles, and other forms of linguistic puzzles and coded messages. They are jewels deeply embedded in the cult of sentimentality and games of the heart. Stones speak the language of the heart and soul. As acrostics the hidden meanings of these sentimental jewels share a Biblical history with acrostic psalms written in ancient Hebrew, and some acrostic jewels expressed religious sentiments. For example, the until now unrecognized acrostic cross pendant from the British Museum collections, pictured below, reads “Je priât à St. A.” (I prayed to Saint A.) spelled from top to bottom and left to right:

Almandite (Garnet)

Through the nineteenth century, acrostic jewelry remained especially popular in France, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1826; shown below) painted an intimate portrait of Madame Marcotte de Sainte-Marie wearing a tantalizing acrostic ring of which only “Je Sa(?)…” is legible.

French women of fashion sometimes wore semaine acrostics on the appropriate day of the week: Lundi (Monday), Mardi (Tuesday), Mercredi (Wednesday), Jeudi (Thursday), Vendredi (Friday), Samedi (Saturday), and Dimanche (Sunday).

Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned several articles of acrostic jewelry to commemorate important sentimental events, births, marriages, and so forth, with names and dates spelled out in stones1. The three bracelets pictured below memorialize Napoleon’s birthday, Marie Louise’s birthday, and their courtship, respectively:

Top: “Napoleon 15 Aôut 1769” spelled, Natrolite, Amethyst, Peridot, Opal, Lapis, Emerald, Onyx, Natrolite [15] Agate, Opal, Uranite, Turquoise [1769].

Middle: “Marie Louise 12 Decembre 1791” spelled, Malachite, Amethyst, Ruby, Iris, Emerald, Lapis, Opal, Uranite, Iolite, Sapphire, Emerald [12] Diamond, Emerald, Chrysoprase, Emerald, Malachite, Beryl, Ruby, Emerald [1791].

Bottom: “27 Mars 1810, 2 Avril 1810” (The date of their first meeting in Compiègne and the date of their wedding in Paris) spelled, [27] Malachite, Amethyst, Ruby, Serpentine [1810], [2] Amethyst, Vermeil (?), Ruby, Iris, Limestone [1810].

The additional Napoleon bracelet pictured below was made by François Regnault Nitot in 1806, and Henri Vever noted, “Unfortunately several of the missing stones were subsequently replaced without taking the first initial of their names into account, and others have been changed or inverted, which makes the reading of the motto impossible today.”2 However, I have decoded it. The confusion over the meaning of this bracelet probably arose from the opaque black stone, which looks like jet or onyx. However, the stone is actually quartz that has been turned black through irradiation over time because of being placed next to a uranite (uranium phosphate). The bracelet reads, "Napoleon 3 Juin 1806 à Lucques." Napoleon conquered Lucca, Italy (called Lucques in French) in 1805, and he appointed his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Bociocchi, as the Princes of Lucques. She gave birth to a daughter at Lucques on June 3, 1806. She was hoping for a boy to whom she could give the masculine name Napoleon after his uncle, but the Princess named her daughter Napoleon anyway. This bracelet was a gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to commemorate the birth of his niece.

Nitot and son delivered another bracelet to Marie Louise on 21 January 1812, incorporating a lock of hair from her son, the King of Rome, and a large diamond surrounded with colored stones spelling “Napoleon.”3 Jewelers made acrostics to spell out names other than Napoleon. The ring below, circa 1890, spells "Agnes" in paste, and like silver name plate brooches of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was probably a sentimental token kept by a loved one.


George Kunz recorded having seen another ring with the name “Sophia” spelled:


Acrostic name jewelry also recalls popular Victorian acrostic poems incorporating the names of people or places. Most of these lyrical acrostics were love poems, but Edgar Allan Poe’s “Elizabeth” (c. 1829) disrupts the amorous acrostic form of poetry to intensify the sense of unrequited love:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
“Love not” – thou sayest in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! If that language from your heart arise,
Breathe it less gently forth – and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love – was cured of all beside –
His folly – pride – and passion – for he died.5

Likewise, Lewis Carroll frequently included in his writings acrostic poems spelling the names of those to whom he dedicated his work. For example, Through the Looking-Glass (1871) concludes with a poem spelling “Alice Pleasance Liddell.”6
Like English Civil War portrait rings depicting Charles I, acrostics occasionally played a role in political struggles. In the mid nineteenth century, Italian nationals fighting against Austrian rule used the name of opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, as an acrostic revolutionary cry, “Viva Verdi!” The slogan being code for “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia,” or Long Live Victor Emanuel King of Italy.7 Similarly, in England wearing “repeal” jewelry provided one form of popular protest against poorly conceived legislation. The English parliament’s attempts to keep domestic grain production profitable for the landed aristocracy led to the passing of several Corn Laws, which placed tariffs on the importation of foreign cereal. The Corn Laws resulted in unpredictable price fluctuations and food shortages that hit the urban proletariat especially hard. Riots and demonstrations ensued. Those who could afford to wore jewelry containing the following stones (or their paste equivalents) to spell “repeal”:


George Kunz provides an amusing anecdote regarding “repeal” jewelry:
An Irishman, who owned such a ring, noted one day that the lapis lazuli had fallen out, and took the ring to a jeweller in Cork, to have the missing stone replaced. When the work was completed, the owner, seeing that the jeweller had set a topaz in place of a lapis lazuli, protested against the substitution; but the jeweller induced him to accept the ring as it was, by the witty explanation that it now read, “repeat,” and that if the agitation were often enough repeated, the repeal would come of itself.8

In short, acrostics and jewelry may serve as a focal point for shared political aspirations, a badge of a body politic.
Other rare acrostics include: “souvenir,” “pet,” and “darling.” The two rings shown below are the only pieces of jewelry that I know of with the acrostic “darling,” which is spelled:


The ring pictured (top) is hallmarked for maker CJ Ltd. (probably Charles Jamison who was working in Inverness in 1810) 9ct. Sheffield 1835. The other identical "darling" ring pictured (below) is also from CJ Ltd. and hallmarked for 1824. Both rings are set with natural stones.

As demand for “regard jewelry” has steadily increased, prices for acrostics have skyrocketed. Collectors need to be especially careful not to get ripped off. Acrostic jewelry is still made today. Be especially careful when buying “dearest” and “regard” jewelry. Familiarize yourself with what the new ones look like and beware of pieces labeled “vintage” as these may not be the antique (i.e. Victorian or Edwardian) examples sought after by collectors, but may nonetheless be priced as antiques. I have seen modern “love,” “regard,” and “dearest” jewelry being sold at exorbitant prices by online antiques dealers who should know better. Shame on them. On the other hand, if you are any good at identifying stones, you can sometimes find rare or unusual acrostic jewelry offered at exceptionally low prices by dealers who are ignorant of what they have.

1 Shirley Bury (1991) gives a short description and discussion of the three Napoleon bracelets sold by Sotheby’s, however some of the stones were misidentified, Jewellery, 1789-1910, The International Era. Woodbridge: Antiques Collectors Club, p. 141.

2 Henri Vever (2001) French Jewelryof the Nineteenth Century. London: Thames and Hudson, p. 119.

3 Ibid.

4 George Kunz (1917/1973) Rings for the Finger. New York: Dover, p. 50.

5 Edgar Allan Poe (c. 1829) “Elizabeth.” Undated manuscript.

6 Lewis Carroll (1871/2003) Through the Looking-Glass. Ann Arbor: Borders Classics, p. 172.

7 Charles Horne (1894) Great Men and Famous Women. New York: Selmar Hess, p. 342.

8 George Kunz (1917/1973) Rings for the Finger. New York: Dover, p. 50.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Be sure to visit my newest website:


I will be offering for purchase only the finest portrait and mourning miniatures, hairwork jewelry, silhouettes, and cameos.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

English Portrait Miniature of Anna Davies c. 1813

English watercolor on ivory portrait of Anna Davies (1771/2-1815) who was the servant and mistress of William Gifford (1756-1826), the English poet, literary critic, satirist, editor, and outspoken Tory. Atop the interwoven hair of Anna and William, the gold and enamel urn reads, “S:M/ ANNA DAVIES/ OBT. VI FEBY/ MDCCCXV/ AN ÆTAT SUÆ/ XLIII O.” or in expanded form, “Sacred to the Memory of Anna Davies who died 6 February 1815 at the age of 43 years old.”

William Gifford, who was born to working class parents at Ashburton, Devonshire, initially received an apprenticeship as a cobbler, though he had greater interests in poetry. His early efforts at verse received the attention of William Cookesley, an Ashburton surgeon who raised a subscription to buy out the apprenticeship and returned the youth to school. Gifford continued to write poetry and began translating Latin, especially the works of Juvenile, and he received a B.A. from Exeter College, Oxford in 1782. He was author of two famous satirical poems “The Baviad” (1791), which savagely lambasted the Della Cruscan circle of sentimental poets, and “The Maeviad” (1795) aimed against some minor dramatists of the day. His jagged criticisms won him a number of bitter enemies, and in "The Spirit of the Age," William Hazlitt (1825) described him as, "possessed of that sort of learning which is likely to result from an over-anxious desire to supply the want of the first rudiments of education: that sort of wit which is the offspring of ill-humour or bodily pain: that sort of sense which arises from a spirit of contradiction and a disposition to cavil at and dispute the opinions of others: and that sort of reputation which is the consequence of bowing to established authority and ministerial influence." Gifford's (1800) "Epistle to Peter Pindar," a harsh criticism of Dr. John Wolcot, prompted Wolcot's reply, "A Cut at a Cobbler" and a public letter in which he threatened to horse-whip Gifford. The two met in Wright’s bookshop in Piccadilly on 18 August 1800, and when Wolcot attempted to make good on his threat, Gifford removed Wolcot's cane from him and beat him with it until Wolcot finally fled down Piccadilly. From 1809 to 1824, Gifford served as the first editor for the Tory propagandist periodical, “Quarterly Review.”

William Gifford by John Hoppner, c. 1800

Though Gifford never married, he had a love affair with Anna Davies, to whom he wrote romantic love poems. In "Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Last Half Century" (1856), David MacBeth Moir wrote, "[Gifford] was alike able and erudite, severe, cynical, and uncompromising; but he possessed, strange to say, a vein of pathos; and his 'Verses to Anna,' and 'On a Tuft of Early Violets,' are remarkable, not only for their graceful delicacy of sentiment, but for something at least akin to genuine tenderness."

To a Tuft of Early Violets

Sweet flowers! that from your humble beds
Thus prematurely dare to rise,
And trust your unprotected heads
To cold Aquarius' watery skies.

Retire, retire! These tepid airs
Are not the genial brood of May;
That sun with light malignant glares,
And flatters only to betray.

Stern Winter's reign is not yet past --
Lo! while your buds prepare to blow,
On icy pinions comes the blast,
And nips your root, and lays you low.

Alas, for such ungentle doom!
But I will shield you; and supply
A kindlier soil on which to bloom,
A nobler bed on which to die.

Come then-ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
0 come and grace my Anna's breast.

Ye droop, fond flowers! But did ye know
What worth, what goodness there reside,
Your cups with liveliest tints would glow;
And spread their leaves with conscious pride.

For there has liberal Nature joined
Her riches to the stores of Art,
And added to the vigorous mind
The soft, the sympathising heart.

Come then-ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.

O! I should think -- that fragrant bed
Might I but hope with you to share --
Years of anxiety repaid
By one short hour of transport there.

More blest than me, thus shall ye live
Your little day; and when ye die,
Sweet flowers; the grateful Muse shall give
A verse, the sorrowing maid a sigh.

While I, alas! no distant date,
Mix with the dust from whence I came,
Without a friend to weep my fate,
Without a stone to tell my name.

This love poem was written in 1813, probably the same year the miniature was painted. Except for the addition of her rather conservative kerchief, the cut of Anna's dress and bonnet are quite fashionable for 1813. When his beloved Anna died in 1815, Gifford added the urn to the hairwork memorial of her miniature. He erected a monument in her memory at Grosvenor chapel inscribed:

Here lies the body of Ann Davies, (for more than twenty years) servant to William Gifford. She died February 6th, 1815 in the forty-third year of her age, of a tedious and painful malady, which she bore with exemplary patience and resignation. Her deeply afflicted master erected this stone to her memory, as a painful testimony of her uncommon worth, and of his perpetual gratitude, respect, and affection for her long and meritorious service.

Though here unknown, dear Ann, thy ashes rest, still lives thy memory in one grateful breast, that traced thy course through many a painful year, and marked thy humble hope, thy pious fear. O! When this frame, which yet, while life remained, thy duteous love with trembling hand sustained dissolves (as soon it must) may that blessed Power who beamed on thine, illume my parting hour! So shall I greet thee where no ills annoy, and what was sown in grief reaped in joy: where worth, obscured below, bursts into day, and those are paid whom earth could never pay.

The Grave of Anna

I wish I was where Anna lies;
For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour Affection cries,
Go, and partake her humble bier.

I wish I could! for when she died
I lost my all; and life has prov'd
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
A waste unlovely and unlov'd.

But who, when I am turn'd to clay,
Shall duly to her grave repair,
And pluck the ragged moss away,
And weeds that have "no business there"?

And who, with pious hand, shall bring
The flowers she cherish'd, snow-drops cold,
And violets that unheeded spring,
To scatter o'er her hallow'd mould?

And who, while Memory loves to dwell
Upon her name for ever dear,
Shall feel his heart with passions swell,
And pour the bitter, bitter tear?

I DID IT; and would fate allow,
Should visit still, should still deplore --
But health and strength have left me now,
But I, alas! can weep no more.

Take then, sweet maid! this simple strain,
The last I offer at thy shrine;
Thy grave must then undeck'd remain,
And all thy memory fade with mine.

And can thy soft persuasive look,
That voice that might with music vie,
Thy air that every gazer took,
Thy matchless eloquence of eye --

Thy spirits, frolicsome as good,
Thy courage, by no ills dismay'd,
Thy patience by no wrongs subdued,
Thy gay good-humour-can they "fade"?

Perhaps -- but sorrow dims my eye:
Cold turf, which I no more must view,
Dear name, which I no more must sigh,
A long, a last, a sad adieu!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

John Constable Portrait of Harriet Rhudde 1818

John Constable (1776-1837) One of England's best landscape painters and a member of the Royal Academy. Profile of Harriet Rhudde painted in watercolor on card. John Constable married Harriet Rhudde's niece, Maria Bicknell, and this portrait was probably painted in East Bergholt in 1818. The high back bonnet she wears was popular between 1815 and 1825, and the bonnet together with the details of the dress are consistent with a portrait date of 1818. The hallmarked frame engraved "Harriet Rhudde Died 1854" and housing the profile and white silk moire reverse under glass was made by C&W Pt. and assayed in London in 1818.

The wealthy Rev. Dr. Durand Rhudde (1735-1819), married Mary Shergold (1738-1811) in 1760 and had a son about whom seemingly nothing is known and two daughters: Marria Elizabeth born August, 22 1761 and Harriet whose birth date is unknown. Dr. Rhudde recieved a Doctorate of Divinity from King's College, Cambridge, and in 1763, he became vicar of St. Thomas, Southwark. According to the May 1819 edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, "Dr. Rhudde was a zealous and conscientious Divine, and throughout the long period of his existence lived much respected and esteemed." He followed in the footsteps of his father John Rhudde (1704-1778), who was vicar of Portesham and Weymouth pictured below in a 1757 mezzotint after (Solomon?) Williams held in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

On June 1, 1795, Harriet married Edward Farnham (1753-1835) of Quorndon House in Leicestershire. Farnham was a wealthy landowner and the only brother of the Countess of Denibigh. They had a son, Edward Basil, and two daughters, Sarah Ann and Mary Eliza. In 1815 Edward Farnham became High Sheriff of Leicestershire. Harriet died on July 27, 1854. Her sister, Maria Elizabeth, married Charles Bicknell in 1787 at St. George Hanover Square, London and had a daughter, Maria Elizabeth Bicknell. John Constable proposed marriage to Miss Bicknell in 1811, but her grandfather, Dr. Rhudde objected to the union. That same year Constable painted a water color on paper portrait of East Bergholt Church (now housed in The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, UK; pictured below), where Rhudde had been rector since 1786, and his mother gifted the picture to Dr. Rhudde. The elderly reverend remained unswayed and sent payment for the painting along with a letter of gratitude in order to dissolve any obligation to the painter.
Maria's father object to his daughter marrying a painter with little money and few prospects, and Dr. Rhudde threatened to disinherit the Bicknells, if they were unable to prevent the marriage. Harriet Rhudde Farnham likewise appears to have been against the marriage either because she shared her fathers opinion or for mercenary reasons - a change to the Reverend's will would have benefited her children. John earned money through this long interval of courtship by painting portraits, which held little interest for him, and which he viewed as an unwanted distraction from landscape painting. In a letter to Maria, he complained of his commission to copy the portrait of Lady Heathcote, "she will not sit to me though she wants many alterations from the original--but I can have prints, drawings and miniatures, locks of hair to do without end." Despite the objections of her father, aunt, and maternal grandfather, Maria and John married on October 2, 1816 at Saint Martin In the Fields, Westminster, London. John painted the portrait of his fiancee shortly before their marriage (pictured below). Within in a year or two, the tensions between the Contsables and the Rhudde and Bicknell families appear to have calmed significantly. John traveled to East Bergholt in 1818 to sell his father's house, and he brought his painting supplies intent on garnering portrait commissions for additional income. While there, he likely painted this portrait of "Aunt Farnham" in an effort to further improve family relations. Maria and John had seven children and inherited £20,000 from the estate of Charles Bicknell upon his death in 1828. Unfortunately, Maria died of consumption on 23 November of that same year. John mourned his wife for the remainder of his life, and described her as his "departed Angel...a devoted, sensible, industrious religious mother who was all affection."

John Constable Self Portrait, Pencil on Paper, 1806; Tate Collection

John Constable Portrait of Harriet Rhudde's niece, Maria Constable (nee Bicknell), Oil on Canvas, 1816; Tate Collection

Friday, September 22, 2006


“Shades are the truest representation that can be given of man” – Johann Lavater, 1804

Shades, the old name given to silhouettes, became popular after about 1760 and were an outgrowth of the neoclassical revival. Silhouette artists were extremely influenced by both Johann Lavater and classical Greek art. Lavater, the father of the pseudo-science of physiognomy, believed that one’s internal qualities, emotions, intellect, capacity for achievement, and so forth, could be read from a profile of the face especially as a shade. Essentially physiognomy was the “science” of judging a book by its cover, but it was very popular with the producers and consumers of silhouettes. Ancient Greek black figure vases and red figure vases provided additional sources of inspiration and study for artists. For example, both Charles Rosenberg and Jacob Spornberg produced silhouettes in imitation of these silhouette-like vases. Silhouettes were produced on a variety of media including paper, plaster, and ivory.

Silhouette from Lavater’s treatise on physiognomy illustrating, “A man of business, with more than common abilities. Undoubtedly possessed of talents, punctual honesty, love of order, and deliberation. An acute inspector of men; a calm, dry, determined judge.”

Pair of unframed French mourning silhouettes, circa 1780, preumably representing a husband and wife. Both silhouettes are cut from black paper affixed to ivory and embellished with watercolor. Her silhouette bearing the inscription, "Il ne me reste que l'ombre," or "Only my shade remains," is surrounded by six tiny forget-me-nots.

John Miers (fl. 1760-1810) Silhouette of John Shore Lord Teigenmouth (1751-1834). He served as the Governor General of India from 1793-1797 and was made the First Baron Teigenmouth in the Irish Peerage in 1798. This Miers watercolor on plaster silhouette, c. 1800, is the earliest known portrait of John Shore. Price: $1400

Thomas R. Poole, wax medallion of Lord Teigenmouth, 1818, from the National Portrait Gallery.

George Richmond, watercolor of Lord Teigenmouth, 1832, from the National Portrait Gallery.

John Miers (fl. 1760-1810) Silhouette pair painted on ivory and signed "Miers" under the truncation. Price: $1800

John Miers (fl. 1760-1810) Silhouette painted on plaster and signed “Miers” under the truncation with braided hair surround and hairwork reverse. Unfortunately, cracked vertically. John Miers was the master of delineating the finely detailed diaphanous features of clothing.

J. H. Gillespie (fl. 1810-1838) Profile of English Lady c. 1815-20 bearing only the corner remnants of trade label #2. This profile is the type advertised as, "Likenesses, with the features neatly shaded on black grounds, in imitation of copper-plate busts, at 5s. each." He also offered bronzed silhouettes at 5s. and profiles "shaded in watercolor," that is full color profiles with his trademark blue brown crescent shading along the bottom edges of the miniature, for 7s. 6d. each. Gillespie advertised his work as "likenesses drawn in one minute" with the aid of "several mechanical and optical instruments" including a physiognograph, his version of the popular physiognotrace. Gillespie worked in America in the 1830s and at that time he charged 25 cents for silhouettes, 50 cents for the type of profile pictured below, $1 for bronzed silhouettes, and $2 for "features neatly painted in colors."