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Butterworth, John (McKechnie Section 2)

See also Sections Three and Five

Recorded by Jackson (Dictionary). On his trade label, which he used only rarely, this artist called himself 'John Butterworth, Junr'. An examination of the Leeds Parish Registers revealed that six children of John Butterworth, the father of the profilist, were baptized in Leeds between 1761 and 1776. On the last of the relevant entries (for a daughter, Charlotte) the father is described as an 'engraver'. An address, Briggate, follows the first entry (for a son, Robert, born on 26 January), and the other children are all entered as being from Kirkgate, which is the address on the 'John Butterworth, Junr' trade label. Since none of these entries is for a son named John, we must assume that the profilist was the eldest son, born before the family settled in Leeds. If this assumption is correct, he would have been born before 1761 and, since most of his profiles appear to have been taken during the early 1790s, they would be the work of a man in his early thirties.

In several Leeds directories, published in the years 1800-1830, Butterworths are described either as 'engravers', or as 'copper-plate printers'. The Christian name John occurs in entries for the years 1800-1817. It is reasonable to suppose that this John, who is listed with his brother William, is the profilist. Since his surviving silhouettes appear to date from the 1790s, and since the trade cards which John and William Butterworth issued as engravers from 1800 until 1809 make no mention of John's activity as a profilist, it seems that by 1800 he had abandoned the silhouette to devote himself to work as an engraver. We cannot eliminate the possibility that the John Butterworth mentioned on the trade card was the profilist's father, who was, as I have mentioned, an engraver whose sons were presumably continuing the family business. The elder John Butterworth, however, had married and had a son at least as early as 1760; in 1800 he would have been over sixty, and by 1817 at least seventy-seven. It seems more likely, therefore, that the John Butterworth referred to in these entries was the profilist. Entries for the Butterworth family in the directories continue until 1830.

The names of other members of this family are included in these directory entries, and the engraving and printing business later became 'Butterworth, Livesey and Co.' In 1817 a home address of John Butterworth is given (New End Road), but by 1822 only Mrs Butterworth is listed at this address. We can therefore assume that John died during these five years. William Butterworth is still listed in the 1830 entry. The address 88 Kirkgate is listed up to 1822. Addresses on the Leeds parish registers are 'Briggate' in 1761, and thereafter 'Kirkgate'. William Butterworth was born on 2 October 1769. The name of Christopher Butterworth, also an engraver and probably a son of either John or William, first appears in 1822.

We know, then, that John Butterworth the profilist came from a family of at least three generations of engravers and printers. In Leeds City Library there are two trade cards of John and William Butterworth, as engravers. Unfortunately neither is dated. One of them is illustrated; the other reads: 'Shields and pattern papers colour'd or plain, sold by Butterworths, Kirkgate, Leeds.'


Also in Leeds City Library are three maps of Leeds and its district, engraved by 'John Butterworth of Leeds', and dated from 1773 to 1817. If, as seems likely, these were the work of John Butterworth the profilist, he was indeed a man of many skills.

Butterworth painted profiles on card both in bust-length and in three-quarter length. His bust-length silhouettes are finely painted. He used very thin strokes of dark grey pigment to denote details of the hair, cravat and other features of costume, drawing these strokes over a wash of thinned black pigment. Deep shadow on the hair is stressed by fine lines of gum arabic, which is also used more coarsely to show shadow on the clothes. The bust-line finish is characterized by a sharp point in front and by a 'nick' separating the arm from the rest of the profile.

Butterworth's three-quarter-length profiles are similar in style to those painted by Mrs Beetham, if the portrait of Mrs Butler (?) can be regarded as typical of Butterworth's work.


Mrs Beetham painted hair in strokes in much the same fashion ⎯ that is, in fine strokes over a wash base; but her base was less deep in colour than Butterworth's, so that the whole effect is lighter. Butterworth adopted much the same technique for this type of profile as for his bust-length work. He used gum arabic for the sitter's clothing, which has a slightly heavier look than that painted by Mrs Beetham on paper. He shows much variation in the thinning of pigment, and seems to have reserved Chinese white for his profiles on ivory.

Too little of Butterworth's work survives for it to be possible to mention any special points about the original framing of his profiles. If any examples were to come to light in their original frames one would expect these to be either of oval hammered brass or of pearwood.

It is unlikely that Butterworth used mechanical aids to take his profiles. His output was not large enough to warrant such an expedient and he was in any case a competent artist in other fields.

Jackson refers to a portrait of William Marshall 'of Hatton' (1769-1808) which was reproduced in Crisp's Visitation of England, Vol. V, p. 50.

The existence of the trade label inscribed 'John Butterworth, Junr' has led some writers to assume that two profilists of this name were in practice. The profile of Mrs Butler (?), painted in three-quarter length, bears this label. Woodiwiss, who discovered it, did not ascribe it to the same artist who painted the bust-length profiles on card or ivory, almost all of which show the distinctive 'nick' at the junction of the arm with the rest of the profile at the bust-line termination. Since, however, a bust-length profile on glass, painted with two of these 'nicks', bears the same trade label, inscribed 'John Butterworth, Junr', and also in view of the genealogical evidence already presented above, it seems clear that only one John Butterworth in this large family of artists and craftsmen produced profiles. The text of the trade label (illustrated), which has been seen on the reverses of silhouettes painted on card or on glass, reads thus:


Taken in the most perfect Likenesses & Reduced

to any Size suitable for Rings, Broaches, &c.


Opposite the Vicarage, Kirkgate


John Butterworth was not the only artist to incorporate a profile on his trade label. Among the better known artists, both Mrs Beetham and Charles adopted this practice.

Some of Butterworth's silhouettes, including a large oblong glass etching in gold and sepia described in Section Three, are simply signed 'J. Butterworth'. His small output of profiles, compared with his larger production in other fields, probably explains why he used only one trade label, which was no doubt engraved by the Butterworths themselves.

Ills. 703-706, 991

? Mrs Butler
Silhouette painted on card
1 February 1793
Trade Label
Frame: oval, hammered brass


From the collection of the late J. C. Woodiwiss


John Marriner
Silhouette painted on card
3 ¼ x 2 ½ in./83 x 64mm.
Frame: oval, pearwood


John Marriner, the son of W. Marriner of Werthus, married Mary Causon, the daughter of Richard Causon. They lived at Blue Hall, Ingleton. He died on 25 November 1806. The bust-line termination is typical of Butterworth.


Author’s collection


Trade label of John Butterworth.


From the collection of the late J. C. Woodiwiss


Trade card of the engravers John and William Butterworth.


Leeds City Libraries



Man’s shirt-frill. Detail from a silhouette which must certainly be by John Butterworth. Unlike Charles or Mrs Bull, Butterworth does not indicate the edge of the frill with a line. (704)