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Charles, A. (McKechnie Section 3)

See Section Two for main entry

Charles's work on glass, of which little survives, dates probably from c. 1784-1791. It is offered on his trade label and on an advertisement dated 13 August 1791; no later advertisements mention work on glass.

On his trade label Charles refers to himself as the 'Original Inventor of painting on glass'. He was an arch-braggart even among silhouette artists, many of whom were given to self-advertisement. Walter and Richard Jorden were certainly painting on glass before 1784, but Charles in London may not have seen their work, and it is possible that he may have been the first London artist to paint on glass.

It is not clear from the wording of the trade label whether the full-length work mentioned was executed on glass or on paper, but as later advertisements, which do not mention work on glass, do offer full-length work, this may have been painted only on paper. No full-length work by Charles has yet been identified beyond doubt. It is also not clear from the trade label whether the 'enamel' work mentioned was enamelled on glass, or fired on metal.

The two illustrated examples show no use of finger-printing technique, so that the work appears not in the least like that of Mrs Beetham, being more like that of William Hamlet the elder. Charles only used a needle to draw the lines indicating the collar and lapels of a coat, or the sham buttonholes often seen on men's coats of the time. The hair is built up of fine brush-strokes, applied closely where depth of shade is required, and thinly to show highlighting. The shirt-frill on the silhouette of the Duke of Chandos shows fine hatching, seen on a magnification photograph at the end of this Section. Charles took less trouble with the shirt-frill on the silhouette of Mr Fitzgerald.


The silhouettes are larger than those, for instance, of William Hamlet the elder: that of the Duke of Chandos is 3½ in. high and over 1½ in. wide at its widest part. Not enough of the artis's signed work on glass has been seen for it to be possible to describe a typical bust-line termination, and this feature is in any case variable on his work on paper. Both the illustrated examples are framed in pear-wood, and the silhouette of Mr Fitzgerald has an interesting verre églomisé surround, probably commissioned by Charles.

Mention should be made of a glass double silhouette of George III and Queen Charlotte, attributed by previous writers to Charles. As I have stated in Section Two, during 1795 Charles painted a portrait (probably a miniature in colour) of George III, but in none of his numerous advertisements does he refer to a silhouette of Queen Charlotte. If Charles really was responsible for this fine piece of work, it is strange that he did not sign it.


Also, the profile of the Queen is shown in fingerprinting; but, as I have mentioned, signed examples on glass by Charles show no evidence of fingerprinting technique. Again, detail on the black silhouette of the King is shown with a needle in the same parts as on the silhouette of the Duke of Chandos. The only artist who was proficient enough to have produced work of this quality, both in fingerprint and with a needle, in black work, was Hinton Gibbs (q.v.), under whose name I have illustrated this piece.

On his work on glass, Charles scratched the signature 'by Charles' near the base of the bust-line termination on the back (rather shakily, since he had to execute the signature in reverse).


Ills. 1031, 1032, 1221, 1228

James, Third Duke of Chandos
Silhouette painted on glass
29 September 1785
4½ x 3¼in./115 x 83mm.
Frame: pearwood


Inscribed on the reverse, ‘James, 3rd Duke of Chandos/29th Sept., 1785/Given to Mrs. Troughton by the Rt. Honble. the Lady anna Eliza Brydges./Sir William Hillman’. The artist’s signature, ‘by Charles’, is scratched near the back of the bust-line.


Holborne of Menstrie Museum, Bath; No. M.206


Mr Fitzgerald
Silhouette painted on glass, with verre églomisé border
Late 1780s
3 x 2¼in./77 x 58mm.
Frame: pearwood


Signed in the same manner as 1031.


From Weymer Mills, ‘One Hundred Silhouettes from the Wellesley Collection’ (1912) by courtesy of the Oxford University Press



Pigtail wig. Detail from a silhouette of an unknown man by A. Charles.
Though the artist has used a needle only sparingly to render the sitter’s hair, scratch lines show where he used it to the outline of the frock. (1031)


Holborne of Menstrie Museum, Bath; No. M. 206


Detail from a silhouette of a man by A. Charles. The artist has used a needle to indicate the button-holes. (1031)


Holborne of Menstrie Museum, Bath; No. M. 206