Augustin Amant Constan Fidele Edouart, Silhouettist

(b. 1789, d. 1861)


From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

One of the chief workers in the art of silhouette portraiture in the early part of the nineteenth century, was born at Dunkerque in 1789. As a young man he served in the army under Napoleon, and in 1813 came to England where he at first endeavoured to support himself by teaching French. Subsequently he began to make devices and landscapes in human hair—"mosaic hair works," as he termed them, and also models of animals covered with their own hair; but as it took him several months to do a single figure this did not prove a very profitable employment. In 1815 and 1816 he exhibited portraits of dogs and horses at the Royal Academy.

In 1825 he began to take silhouette likenesses. These he did with a pair of scissors and black paper. The time occupied in taking a likeness was five minutes, and his charges were five shillings for a full-length, seven-and-six for a seated figure, three-and-six for a child, and two shillings for a bust. Edouart's work was much above that of any of his contemporaries; he adhered strictly to the limitations of his art, and did not add brush-work to enhance the effect in the hair, frills, etc., as others did. He had a large and profitable practice in London, but like other practitioners in his form of art he moved about from place to place, visiting the large towns in England, Scotland and Ireland.

In 1830 he was in Edinburgh whence he went to Glasgow and on to Dublin in 1833. He took rooms at 27 Westmoreland Street, and there held an exhibition of his works, his models of animals as well as his silhouettes. In noticing the exhibition the "Dublin Evening Mail" (24th July, 1833) remarked: "The most comical, and at the same time, the cleverest artist that we ever met in his way, is Monsieur Edouart who is now exhibiting his extraordinary powers in Westmoreland Street. This gentleman has either invented or brought to perfection an art which in his hands gives to the scissors all the expressive powers of the pencil." His studio soon became crowded with sitters, and during his stay in Dublin he took six thousand portraits, including the Marquess of Anglesey, the archbishops of Dublin and Tuam, the bishops of Dromore and Raphoe, the Duke of Leinster, Chief Justice Bushe, etc. His work was favourably noticed in the Dublin papers. (See "Saunder's Newsletter," November, 1833, and "Dublin Evening Post," December, 1833). "His art," says the "Post," "an art peculiar to himself, not only overcomes the difficulty of giving to a profile (that is, to the outline of the features cut out in black paper) the perfect identity of every lineament, but actually brings to the mind's eye the peculiar character of thought and expression of the person so represented, whilst he also delineates in the figure the familiar attitude and gesture by which, even at a glance, the original may be recognised."

After a stay of about a year in Dublin Edouart went to Cork and took rooms at 77 Patrick Street. From thence he visited Killarney where he took one hundred portraits, and Kinsale where he did one hundred and thirty-two. The "Cork Evening Herald" (December, 1834), informed its readers that "Monsieur Edouart, the celebrated, and, we may say, unique genius in his art, is doing wonders at the spirited town of Kinsale. The number of likenesses he has already taken is surprising for so small a place." He next visited Fermoy, where he took one hundred and fifty-one portraits; Bandon, one hundred and ninety-seven portraits; and Youghal, one hundred and twelve portraits. He also visited Mallow, Limerick and other places. In Limerick he did twenty-three portraits of inmates of the County Asylum. While in Cork he employed Unkles and Klasen, 26 South Mall, to do lithograph backgrounds upon which he mounted his silhouettes.

For some time, as Edouart was moving from place to place, he had been writing a book upon silhouettes, and in 1835 it was published with the title "A Treatise on Silhouette Likenesses; by Monsieur Edouart, Silhouettist to the French Royal Family, and patronised by His Royal Highness the late Duke of Gloucester and the principal nobility of England, Scotland, and Ireland." It was published by Longman and Co., Paternoster Row, and J. Bolster, Patrick Street, Cork. This book, now scarce, is a thin demy octavo volume of 122 pages, containing eighteen full-page illustrations of portraits and fancy subjects lithographed by Unkles and Klasen. The illustrations include a portrait of the artist, as frontispiece, a portrait of Daniel O'Connell done from memory, the artist having seen him but once at the Corn Exchange, Dublin; a portrait of John Smith Barry, and one of Paganini. Among the fancy subjects are "Check Mate," "John's Funny Story to Mary the Cook," and others, excellent examples of what can be done in this form of art. Edouart visited the north and other parts of Ireland. A group of "David Scott, a blind boy, and Sarah Armstrong, a dumb girl, pupils in the Ulster Institution, conversing together," was lithographed and presented to the Institution for the benefit of its funds by Edouart in 1839.

Edouart terminated his stay in Ireland in 1839, when he went to America and remained there until the end of 1849, and then started on his return to England.

When off the coast of Guernsey his ship, the Oneida, was wrecked, and most of the cargo lost. The sufferings he was exposed to, and the loss of almost all his books containing duplicates of his silhouettes, the greater part of his life's work, so affected him that he never again followed his profession. He died at Guisnes, near Calais, in 1861.

Edouart's work consisted almost entirely of full-length figures; he seldom did bust portraits. Occasionally he did silhouettes of a large size; his portrait group of Bishops Elrington and Bisset seated at a table measures 15 by 18 inches; that of Bishop Elrington and his family 16 by 22; while another of Bishop Elrington and his family measures 2 feet by 3 feet. He always cut his silhouettes on doubled paper, so that he was able to retain duplicates of his work. These he kept in large volumes, with the names of the sitters and the dates. At the time he was in Cork he had over fifty thousand of them.

When wrecked off Guernsey all except a case containing fourteen volumes were lost. Among the saved volumes was one containing duplicates of the likenesses done in Killarney, Kinsale, Bandon, Fermoy and Youghal, which was lately in the possession of Mrs. Nevill Jackson, of Oak Lodge, Sidcup, Kent, who obtained it with other volumes containing some of the American, English and Scottish collections. The first volume now belongs to Messrs. Debenham, Wigmore Street, London. In the National Gallery of Ireland are portraits by him of Robert Ball, Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman, and John Buckley, artist; and two family groups done at Bandon, in 1834, all taken from this volume. A portrait of Edouart by William Roe (q.v.), was exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1833.

« John Edgeworth | Contents and Search | C. Egan »