Bell, E. (McKechnie Section 2)

Known from one signed silhouette. The only artist with this surname and initial who was listed as an exhibitor at any of the London art institutions by Graves was Edward Bell, of Worcester, who exhibited at the Royal Academy as many as sixty-eight still life paintings between 1811 and 1847. Since E. Bell's extant silhouette is dated 1792, the link between him and Edward Bell, the painter, can only be regarded as tenuous.

An engraver named E. Bell, listed in Prints for the Collector, by Therle Hughes (London, 1970), is stated there to have been working during the early nineteenth century in mezzotint and producing, in particular, engravings after Morland. He may have painted silhouettes earlier in his career, and may indeed have been the artist considered here. Other engravers named Bell, though not necessarily of the same family, were also in practice at the time.

Bell, the silhouette artist, may have worked as a drawing master as well as an engraver, painting silhouettes for additional income. The extant example bears no trade label, which suggests that he was not prolific in this medium. This profile (of a man) is exceptionally small, being only 1½ in. in height. It is painted on paper, with the face and pigtail ribbons in dead black, and the rest painted in thinned pigment of a brownish-black hue. The hair is rendered in minute strokes, painted over with a wash of very thin colour. The sitter's frock is painted in coarser strokes over a wash of a deeper shade; the large buttons, much in fashion at the period during which Bell was working, are carefully shown. The slanting bust-line is very individual in contour. Another individual feature is the absence of gum arabic from the dark areas of the profile. Many of the artists who painted on card at this time (especially those, such as A. Charles, who also painted miniatures) made much use of gum arabic.

The type of black water-colour pigment used by Bell appears brownish when thinned; seen alongside examples in greyish-black, this profile, with its brownish tint, is conspicuous.

The work is signed on the reverse.

Ills. 692, 693, 980, 988

John Castle
Silhouette painted on paper
3 1/8 x 2½in./80 x 64mm.
Frame: oval, turned pearwood, with gilded central oval surround


Signed on the reverse.


Signature of E. Bell, from the silhouette illustrated in 692.



Man’s hair and collar. Detail froma silhouette by E. Bell, finely executed, without gum arabic. (692)


Present location unknown


Man’s shirt-frill. Detail from a silhouette by E. Bell. The artist has used no gum arabic. (692)