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Butterworth, John (McKechnie Section 5)

See Section Two for main entry

Butterworth appears to have painted silhouettes on ivory for jewellery setting, although in some cases he stuck the ivories onto dark card to fill the oval of a cabinet size frame. His silhouettes are painted in a base colour which varies between a dark-grey body colour to a not very deep black. A good deal of clothing detail and all of the wig or hair are shown. Wigs and hair are painted with a mass of strokes of thinned pigment, separated (this is only visible under strong magnification) by intermittent strokes of a needle; these strokes of the needle are also seen on the parts of the clothing detail which require highlighting. This technique was not often used by profilists painting on ivory; Butterworth no doubt adapted it from his work on glass as well as from engraving techniques (he was an engraver himself). Some gum arabic was used to show deep shading. The 'nick' at the separation of the arm from the rest of the profile at the base-line, a characteristic of Butterworth's work, is present in slightly varying form on all three illustrated silhouettes. Two of these are of locket size, but are mounted for cabinet-size frames as described above.

Only one of the illustrated examples (that owned by Mr J. A. Pollak) is signed. On the back is written 'Taken by J. Butterworth, Leeds'; also on the back is part of a fine engraving, possibly the work of the artist and his brother William (also an engraver). The attribution, on stylistic grounds, of the profile of John Marriner to Butterworth is strengthened not only by the fact that Butterworth painted another silhouette of him (also in his characteristic style) on card (see Section Two), but also by the fact that Marriner lived in Ingleton, not far from Leeds, where Butterworth worked.


As the example painted on ivory seems to be identical with the profile painted on card, but is in a papier mâché frame, it may well be a later copy of the latter example, which appears to have been painted in c. 1790. On stylistic grounds, the profile painted on ivory can confidently be attributed to Butterworth.

Ills. 55, 65, 1459-1461

Unknown man
Silhouette painted on ivory in shades of black and grey
1 ¾ x 1 ¼ in./45 x 32mm.
Frame : oval, hammered brass


The reverse bears an inscription, ‘Taken by John Butterworth, Leeds’, and part of an engraving (probably the work of the artist and his brother William). The silhouette is mounted on dark card.


J. A. Pollak collection


John Marriner, of Ingleton, Yorkshire
Silhouette painted on ivory in shades of black and grey
Early 1790s
2 x 1 ¾ in./51 x 45mm.
Frame : papier mâché


Copy of an earlier silhouette (704, painted in the 1790s) by Butterworth.
The silhouette is mounted on black card within the brass surround.


Author’s collection


Gold locket, with finely decorated back, containing a silhouette of an unknown woman (initials, ‘D.B.’) painted on ivory in tones of dark grey by john Butterworth, c. 1790. With blue glass surround. Size: 1½ x 1¼in./39 x 32mm. The back of the locket is illustrated in 55.


M. A. H. Christie collection




Surround of plaited hair, and elaborate decoration in hair and pearls, from the back of a gold locket containing a silhouette (1461) by John Butterworth, c. 1790.


M. A. H. Christie collection


Single-clasp bracelet of garnets, the clasp bearing the silhouette of a man, probably by john Butterworth, c. 1790.


From E. Nevill Jackson, ‘The History of Silhouettes’ (1911), by coutesy of the ‘Connoisseur’