Harrington, Sarah, Mrs (McKechnie Section 1)

See also Section Two

Recorded by Coke (The Art of Silhouette). By 1913 Mrs Harrington's identity as a profilist had been discovered from an example of her work, bearing her trade label, in the Wellesley Collection. Later, Jackson (Dictionary) published further discoveries which she had made: in particular, the record of a patent taken out by Mrs Harrington in 1775. It is clear from the wording of this patent that Mrs Harrington was a proficient painter on silk and other surfaces, as well as a painter of black silhouettes (see the entry on her in Section Two). (Although she is listed by Foskett. I know of no sound evidence that she painted portrait miniatures on ivory).

I myself have discovered a quantity of new material, much of which throws light on the obscurest part of her career: its early phase, before she became a cutter of silhouettes.

The earliest important item of this new material is a little book entitled New and Elegant Amusements for the Ladies of Great Britain, 'by a Lady'. The title page tells us that this was printed for the author in 1772, and sold by S. Crowder, Paternoster Row; W. Shropshire, New Bond Street; J. Walter, Charing Cross; and W. Cooke. Royal Exchange.


The book is dedicated to the Princess Amelia Sophia Eleanor (1710-86), second daughter of George II, sometimes known as the 'Gunnersbury aunt of George III'. The dedication, 'To her Royal Highness the Princess Amelia', is worded as follows:


Your ineffable mildness, and amiable disposition, accompanied by a noble and generous expansion of heart, are virtues that will naturally encourage and invite the timorous: attracted by those realities, with deference and respect. I approach your Highness, soliciting your Royal favour to this little performance. trusting your goodness of heart, and greatness of mind, will excuse the imperfections therein contained, upon the consideration of which the Author has done her best for the service of her sex; I have endeavoured (as far as my weak abilities would permit) to contribute my mite in the promotion of sound and useful Knowledge, with an humble endeavour to point out the most effectual means of rendering permanently happy, not my own sex in particular, but the whole nation in general. Minds are improvable, — to enlarge those minds, to occasion an innate love of Virtue and Knowledge must be to increase human felicity; this is my attempt, and for those great ends I court your Royal benign protection. Knowledge and virtue are materials truly worthy of the human soul; they make a being pleasant to us, fill the mind with entertaining views, and administer to it a perpetual series of gratification; they give ease to fortitude, and gracefulness to retirement; they fill a public station with suitable abilities, and add a lustre to those who are in possession of them. Science naturally tends to enlarge the ideas, to give a benevolence of mind, to moderate the passions, and to render human nature charming. In a word, they give those amiable accomplishments your Royal Highness so largely possesses, and which have justly occasioned your Highness to be beloved and respected by all honest Englishmen, who esteem your Highness, not only for your own Virtues, but for the great love they ever bore to your most illustrious Father, whose virtuous memory will be ever dear to a grateful people. Long may your Highness continue the ornament of your Country, and the boast of a people devoted to your goodness.

I am, Madam, your Royal Highness's Dutiful, most humble, And most faithful Servant,

S. Harrington

The stress on geographical information in advertisements published later by Mrs Harrington, and the similarity of certain phrases in them to phrases in this book, leave us in no doubt that the 'S. Harrington' who is the author of the book and Mrs Sarah Harrington the profilist were the same person. The mention of George II, who died twelve years before this book was published, leads us to suppose that when Mrs Harrington wrote it she was already of an age to remember the days of George II's reign; perhaps she was at least forty years old by then.

The suggested 'amusements' which Mrs Harrington discusses in her rather sanctimonious text are classified as follows:


I The Use of the Globes

2 Geography and Maps

3 Astronomy

4 Reading

5 Epistolary Correspondence, or Letter Writing

6 Poetry

7 Music

8 Drawing


I Dancing

2 Theatrical Entertainments

3 Singing, etc.

Unfortunately, after she had completed the first three sections, Mrs Harrington became so carried away by her ideas of what was suitable reading matter for the ladies of the time, that these fill the remainder (over half the total extent) of her little book. Allowing for the fact that she has included in this section many poems (which, according to her scheme, one would have expected to find in the sixth section), the fourth section of the 'Rational amusements' was as far as she progressed with her advice. On page 143 she tells us that what she has had to say on this subject has taken up so much room that a second part will have to be written to cover the remainder of the suggested amusements. I do not know whether or not a second part was ever written.

Mrs Harrington tells us in her preface, which is addressed 'to the British ladies', that she has a manuscript, written by herself, with which she teaches the 'Use of the globes, Astronomy, Maps, Geography etc.'; indeed, she offers to teach ladies all these attainments in twelve hours. (She probably had in mind a course of twelve lectures, each of one hour's duration.) She gives two addresses to which ladies wishing to benefit from this instruction might apply; such applications were to be made 'in a cover directed to S. Harrington, to be left at Mr. Walter's, Bookseller, No. 85, Charing Cross; or at Mr. Cooke's Bookseller, No. 85, Royal Exchange'. This offer by the author to teach geography to ladies gives further support to the identification of her as Mrs Sarah Harrington, the profilist, since the earliest surviving advertisement published by Mrs Harrington (see below) contains a similar offer.

This treatise must soon afterwards have been published, for there is a copy of the fourth edition (1775) in the British Museum, bearing the title A New Introduction to the Knowledge and Use of Maps. The book is in duodecimo format. It would seem that the obvious success of this book, together with Mrs Harrington's later success as a pioneer travelling silhouette artist, may have put an end to her plan to publish a second volume of the New and Elegant Amusements, although a copy of this may still come to light.

We know from Mrs Harrington's application for a patent that she was married to a Thomas Harrington. We now also know that she was married by 1772, since the first part of her New and Elegant Amusements was written under her married name. At present, Thomas Harrington is only known to us as Sarah's husband. It seems that no member of the family of the Earl of Harrington named Thomas was living at the appropriate date. It will already have become apparent that Sarah Harrington was a woman of considerable education and intellect, and since, on her application for a patent, she describes her husband as a 'gentleman' (a term which, in 1775, was used with caution), we can assume that she was describing him correctly.

It would appear, from the foregoing, that Sarah was no longer in her first youth when she made her debut in the world of commercial cut profile work. New information which has been pieced together now makes it more possible to distinguish her work from that of several others who were later to follow her lead and produce profiles in a similar style.

I quote below the earliest advertisement published by Mrs Harrington to have been so far discovered. The statement in the opening sentence (that Mrs Harrington 'has had the honour of taking Profiles of the First Personages, and most distinguished Nobility in this Kingdom') suggests, however, that she may have issued advertisements previously. It is possible that she began working as a profilist in London in the early months of 1774, since the advertisement appeared in the Bath Chronicle on 10, 17 and 24 November, and on 8 December, of that year. The text is as follows:


The most perfect Likenesses by a Lady who has had the honour of taking Profiles of the First Personages, and most distinguished Nobility in this Kingdom. That no Person may be deprived of their own or a friend's Likeness's, the prices will be as moderate as from Is. 6d. to 2s. 6d., and nothing required unless the greatest possible Likeness is obtained.

The time of sitting does not exceed 5 minutes, and one sitting is sufficient — Specimens to be seen at Mr. Straw- bridge's Linen Draper, corner of Green Street, Bath.

— The Lady teaches (to Ladies only) modern Geography, the Use of Maps within the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes, by an improved method.

— To Foreign Ladies, the science is explained (if required) in the French language.

Will stay in Bath only a few days longer.

The reference to Green Street has led earlier writers to attribute this advertisement to Mrs Elizabeth Hudson (see Section Three), who (then Miss Elizabeth Chilcot) lived at this time on the other corner of this street. Now, however, in the light of the new information given above about Mrs Harrington's earlier publications (especially her treatise on geography), there can be no doubt that she was the 'Lady' who inserted this advertisement. As a profilist, she does not appear to have used her name often before the ratification of her patent in October 1775

In view of the warning at the end of the advertisement, that its author is about to leave Bath, I asked the Bristol City Reference Library to check Bonner and Middleton's Bristol Journal for any further announcements by the same advertiser during the early months of 1775. It was discovered that the following announcement appeared weekly in this journal from 21 January until 11 February 1775: 'The lady who takes miniature profiles continues to take the Most Striking Likenesses at 2s. 6d. Specimens to be seen at Mrs. Perry's, Queen Square.'

Although there is no mention here of geography lessons, it will be seen from an advertisement published in Oxford a few months later (quoted below) that the advertiser had certainly left some geography books during the early months of the year for sale at 'Mr. Cadell's, in Bristol'. (Cadell was a well-known bookseller in the city at that time.) Any hollow-cut profiles which, on stylistic grounds, can be attributed to Mrs Harrington, and are dated January or February 1775, must have been taken during this stay in Bristol. Mrs Collins (q.v.), who was a pupil of Mrs Harrington and for a time worked in partnership with her, refers not very politely, in an advertisement published in the same journal in February 1778, to an earlier visit by Mrs Harrington to the city. Sarah Harrington spent the Christmas of 1774 either in Bath, or returned for a short time to London to her husband, unless he accompanied her on her travels to assist in the transport of her probably cumbersome apparatus.

The advertisement which she published for several successive weeks in Oxford a few months later, which I have already mentioned (Jackson's Oxford Journal, from 6 May 1775), suggests that the weeks in Bristol were probably followed by further spells in Gloucester and Worcester:

A Lady is arrived in this City who takes the most striking Likenesses in miniature, and who has had the honour of taking Profiles of the first Personages and Distinguished Nobility. That no persons may be deprived of their own and friends' Likeness's, the price will be as moderate as Two Shillings and Six-Pence each, and nothing required unless the most perfect Likeness is obtained. The time of sitting does not exceed Five Minutes, and One sitting is sufficient. Specimens may be seen at Mr Pritchard's, opposite the Theatre [the Sheldonian].

The lady teaches (to ladies only) improved modern geography, the use of Maps, with the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes, by such an easy concise method, that a full and competent idea of this useful and entertaining science may be obtained in a few days: Terms One Guinea.

To Foreign Ladies the science is explained, if required, in the French language —A fourth edition of The Knowledge and Use of Maps' is published by the above lady, for the benefit of her pupils, price 3s., teaching those who are totally unacquainted with Maps and Geography, an ample knowledge of both in a few days: intended as an improvement and rational entertainment to the British youths of both sexes: illustrated with a variety of copperplates and accurate maps dedicated to His Royal Highness the Bishop of Osnaburg: and may be had at the above apartments of Mess. Jackson and Co., in the High-Street, Mr. Cadell in Bristol, Mr. Dunn in Gloucester, or Mrs. Gammidge in Worcester. — Ladies taught to draw and paint on silk by a new invention, and so expeditious as to render them proficient in a few hours.

Terms: Half a Guinea only.

This advertisement was not inserted under a special heading, but followed a column of general news (including a story of a stable fire), and another column in which readers were warned not to believe current gossip in the city concerning deaths caused by thunder and lightning and a false account of robbery and murder. The Bishop of Osnaburg, to whom Mrs Harrington had dedicated the fourth edition of The Knowledge and Use of Maps, was Frederick, the second son of George III and Queen Charlotte, and later Duke of York. He was twelve years old in 1775, having been created Bishop of Hanoverian Osnaburg at the age of seven months, largely in order to keep within the Royal Family the considerable emoluments attached to the bishopric. Until he was created Duke of York this was his official title. Mrs Harrington's choice of dedications was certainly highly individual.

In the preface to New and Elegant Amusements Mrs Harrington had deplored 'the amazing increase of Dissipations of almost every kind, at present seems to fascinate our minds, and occasion an almost total neglect of those Refinements so necessary to real happiness of human beings'. Whether all the commercial work which Mrs Harrington had undertaken by 1775 was quite in keeping with the moral tone of the woman-to-woman advice expressed in this book is doubtful. Her motive in writing the book can hardly have been to make of 'the British ladies' the career women of which she herself soon became an example.

It is clear that she was becoming successfully established as a professional profilist, for towards the end of June 1775 she had returned to London to make an application to patent her method of producing profiles. It can be seen from the Patent Specification form that the Harringtons' address at the time was Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, then in the County of Surrey. The patent was first granted on 24 June and was ratified on 14 October of the same year. The full text of the Patent Specification Form is as follows:

A.D. 1775 . . . . . . . . No. 1100



TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME, I, SARAH HARRINGTON, Wife of Thomas Harrington, of Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, in the County of Surrey, Gentlemen, send greeting.

WHEREAS His most Excellent Majesty King George the Third did, by His Letters Patent under the Great Seal of Great Britain, bearing date the Twenty-fourth day of June, in the fifteenth year of His reign, give and grant unto me, the said Sarah Harrington, His especial licence that I, the said Sarah Harrington, during the term of years therein expressed, should and lawfully might use, exercise, and vend, within England, Wales, and Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and also within all His Majesty's Colonies and Plantations abroad, my Invention of 'A NEW AND CURIOUS METHOD OF TAKING AND REDUCING SHADOWS, WITH APPENDAGES AND APPARATUS NEVER BEFORE KNOWN OR USED IN THE ABOVE ART, FOR THE PURPOSE OF TAKING LIKENESSES, FURNITURE. AND DECORATIONS, EITHER THE INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL PART OF ROOMS, BUILDINGS, &C., IN MINATURE. SO AS TO BEAR AN EXACT, STRIKING, AND MOST ACCURATE RESEMBLANCE AND TRUE MATHEMATICAL PROPORTION OF THE ORIGINAL;' in which said Letters Patent there is contained a provisoe obliging me, the said Sarah Harrington, under my hand and seal, to cause a particular description of the nature of my said Invention, and how the same is to be performed, to be enrolled in His Majesty's High Court of Chancery within four calender months after the date of the said recited Letters Patent, as in and by the same, (relation being thereunto had,) may more fully and at large appear.

NOW KNOW YE, that in compliance with the said provisoe, I, the said Sarah Harrington, do hereby declare that my said Invention of a New and Curious Method of Taking and Reducing Shadows, with Appendages and Apparatus never before known or used in the above Art, for the Purpose of taking Likenesses, Furniture, and Decorations, either the Internal or External Part of Rooms, Buildings. &c., in Miniature, so as to bear an Exact, Striking, and most Accurate Resemblance, and True Mathematical Proportion of the Original, is described in the manner following (that is to say):-

The person whose likeness is to be taken is to be placed steady, and in such a situation as to procure his or her shadow to the best advantage, either by the rays of the sun received through an apperture into a darkened room, or by illuminating the room with a lamp, candle, or any other light, The party is then placed with the side of his or her face directly opposite the light, so that the shadow may be reflected through a glass (or transparent paper), which glass is made moveable in a frame for the more facile lifting it up and down, so as to fix it on a level direction with the head of the person to be taken; thus will a profile likeness be truly reflected through the glass on the paper in a large shadow as big as life. The outlines of this shadow is then carefully traced with a pencil, &c., after which reduced to a minature size by an instrument called a pentagrapher, made for the purpose of reducing maps, plans, and pictures, but now first used for reducing shadows.

To take furniture and internal decorations of rooms, such as ornaments, chairs, china, &c.—The articles required to be taken are to be placed in such a direction that their shadows may be reflected as above described, traced out in the same mariner, and reduced as before mentioned; after which those shadows, as also the above likenesses, are carefully cut out according to their reduced outlines, and placed upon black or other coloured paper, or any dark body, whose contrast will shew the outlines to the most advantage. The external parts are then, if required. decorated with cut paper. &c., according to the desire of the party, or taste of the artist. When a likeness is to be taken, accompanied with the external part of a room or buildings, a camera obscura is used, which reflects all objects in miniature. Those reflected shadows are received on paper; their outlines carefully mark'd, and then either fill'd up with Indian ink or colored. or cut out as above directed; but when the figures are numerous. Indian ink is the most expeditious method of finishing them, which is also used when the bust of a person is required. either to make it intirely black, or to throw in the features.

In witness whereof, I, the said Sarah Harrington, have hereunto set my hand and seal, this Fourteenth day of October. One thousand seven hundred and seventy-five.


AND BE IT REMEMBRED, that on the same Fourteenth day of October, in the year above said, the aforesaid Sarah Harrington came before our said Lord the King in His Chancery, and acknowledged the Specification of her Invention aforesaid, and all and every thing therein contained and specifyed, in form above written. And also the Specification aforesaid was stampt according to the tenor of the Statute made in the sixth year of the reign of the late King and Queen William and Mary of England, and so forth.

Inrolled the Eighteenth day of October, in the year above said.

The mention of Berwick-on-Tweed is interesting. Either the patent laws did not apply to Scotland, or a patent which would be valid in Scotland was more expensive to obtain, or possibly there was no point in obtaining one at this early stage of silhouette art. No doubt Mrs Harrington was assured of a large enough clientele in England without having to undertake the then lengthy, and no doubt fatiguing, journey to Scotland.

The specification in the patent describes the technique of painting profiles; 'filling in with Indian ink' is the method used, especially when 'the figures are numerous'. Work in colour is also mentioned, from which one assumes that coloured work by Mrs Harrington on paper or silk might be discovered. Silhouettes of family groups (taken indoors, showing furniture, and probably painted in Indian ink; see Section Two) might also come to light. Most surviving silhouettes by Mrs Harrington, however, are hollow-cut.

Mrs Harrington's visit to London to apply for the patent was brief, for by the end of June she was once again advertising her services in Oxford. She seems to have spent the last months of 1775 in East Anglia, with Cambridge as the centre of her activities. Her profile of Thomas Lund, dated December 1775, was certainly taken in Cambridge. Despite the existence of the Harringtons' London home, her well documented tours of the provinces were so extensive that it seems unlikely that she worked from a London studio at any time during 1775.


Another advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal (11 May 1776) tells us that Mrs Harrington had by this date taken profiles 'of the whole of the University of Cambridge. Since new admissions during the eighteenth century numbered about two hundred a year, she must have taken a vast number of profiles of undergraduates in Cambridge alone. The advertisement reads as follows:

Mrs. Harrington in her return from Cambridge, to London, has taken the Liberty of making this City in her Way, and purposes continuing a short time to take Likenesses in Miniature, at 2s. 6d. each:- Gentlemen of the University may have the Likeness of any Friend now at Cambridge, having had the Honour of taking Profiles of the Whole of that University: retains the warmest Gratitude for the very kind and favourable Incouragement she was last Year honoured by this University.

Specimens to be seen at Mrs. Madegon's, in Holywell.

It will be seen from this that Mrs Harrington, now that her patent had been ratified, was advertising under her own name and was no longer hiding behind the anonymity of 'a lady'. No doubt, by this time, her success as a profilist obviated any need to teach geography, and she was prospering.

An unpublished paper by Trevor Fawcett, Fine Arts Librarian at the University of East Anglia, entitled 'Art in Norwich before the Norwich School', includes a record of a visit to this city by Mrs Harrington, reported in the Norwich Mercury on 9 March 1776.

It would seem that any hollow-cut profiles of university subjects, dated 1775 or 1776, and similar in style to the authenticated examples of Mrs Harrington's work. are most probably from her hand. Mrs Collins does not appear to have begun a tour until January 1777 and, as I have mentioned in the entry on her, she had certainly changed her style by 1778.

In the autumn of 1776 Mrs Harrington was working in the north of England. In A Master of Silhouette L. Morgan May quoted the following from the Leeds Mercury of 26 November 1776:

By the King's Appointment, Mrs. Harrington, who is honoured by His Majesty's Patronage and has taken profiles of the First Personages, and most distinguished Nobility, now attends at Mr. Harrison's, Mill Hill, and takes the most STRIKING LIKENESSES at 2s. 6d. each. Those Ladies and Gentlemen that have Friends at either of the Universities, or at Manchester, Liverpool, or Doncaster, may be accommodated with their Likenesses; Mrs. Harrington having had the Honor of taking Likenesses of near the whole of the former, and all the Genteel families of the Latter Places.

It may be assumed that Mrs Harrington had spent most of the latter months of 1776 in the three northern cities mentioned in this advertisement. The 'universities' were, of course, Oxford and Cambridge.

No advertisements published by Mrs Harrington during 1777 have come to light. We know that early in 1778 she was again in East Anglia, for Mr Trevor Fawcett has quoted (op. cit.) a record of a visit by her to King's Lynn, Norfolk, at this time. We may possibly assume that in the spring of 1778 Mrs Harrington was working in Herefordshire. I have illustrated three of a number of profiles of members of the HoubIon family, all apparently taken by her and all dated April 1778. In the summer of that year the family were at Eywood, near Hereford, one of their family homes. Unfortunately, no advertisement by any profilist seems to have been published during that month in any of the Herefordshire papers.

100, 228, 238

On 1 April 1779 Mrs Harrington was living at 62 South Molton Street, London; this address is inscribed on her print of her painted profile of William Crotch, the infant musical prodigy, which is illustrated in Section Two. Possibly she spent the winter of 1778-79 in London at a studio at this address.


By 1779, however, she was back in Oxford, for in several successive issues of Jackson's Oxford Journal (from 26 June) there appeared the following advertisement: 'Mrs Harrington wishes most respectfully to inform the Gentlemen of the University, that she purposes attending at Oxford the latter End of the ensuing Week, to take most striking Likenesses, at Two Shillings and Sixpence each, at Mrs. Madegon's Boarding-School, in the High-Street'. Times had apparently changed for the better for Mrs Madegon, who, since 1776, had risen to running a boarding school in the High Street. Apparently Jackson, the publisher of the journal, sold at this time many reproductions of Mrs Harrington's profile of Admiral Augustus Keppel, in whose trial and acquittal in February of that year there had been wide public interest.

This was Mrs Harrington's third visit to Oxford. She must have received considerable revenue from work in the university cities alone, and it is interesting that after five years as a successful silhouette artist she raised her prices so little. Back in Bath in 1774, she charged Is. 6d. to 2s. 6d. each for her profiles (perhaps she charged more for painted than for cut work), and in the summer of 1779 she was still charging only 2s. 6d. John Miers, working in Leeds a year or two later, soon doubled his prices; it is surprising that Mrs Harrington did not do the same. In the late eighteenth century, however, even 2s. 6d. would have been a relatively good sum. Mrs Harrington must have been amassing quite a fortune, what with the sale of her treatise on geography and the large income from her profile work.

Jackson mentions (Dictionary) that in 1780 Mrs Harrington advertised in Leeds. Unfortunately this advertisement cannot now be traced, neither in the Leeds Intelligencer (the files of which are complete for 1780) nor in the Leeds Mercury (the files of which are incomplete for this year). Mrs Jackson says that the wording included the phrase 'Royal Letters Patent approved. Profilist to the King', and that the advertisement ended: 'N.B. Wanted to exchange a genteel house in the vicinity of Kensington Gardens for one in London.' It is strange that such a remark should be included in an advertisement published in Leeds. It may have been quoted from an advertisement published in London previously in the same year. We know that Mrs Harrington had a studio in South Molton Street in 1779; perhaps she and her husband, if he was still alive, had been living in Kensington Gardens.

The London studio address given on what is apparently Mrs Harrington's only trade label is, however, 131 New Bond Street. She cannot have worked at this address until the autumn of 1779, after she had returned from Oxford, since before June 1779 (when she visited Oxford) she had worked in South Molton Street. It would seem, therefore, that profiles bearing the New Bond Street address must be dated after autumn 1779 at the earliest. It can also be assumed that none of these labelled profiles can be by Mrs Collins, who had left the partnership by January 1777.

Sarah Harrington was certainly established at 131 New Bond Street by 1782. Coke found an advertisement by her, published in London in some month during this year (probably in the spring, since most artists visited Bath in the winter), which cannot now be traced and which reads as follows: 'Mrs Harrington has returned from Bath to Mr. Henderson's, chymist, No. 131, New Bond Street. Takes the most Striking Likenesses at 2s. 6d. each, by virtue of His Majesty's Letters Patent granted to Mrs. Harrington by the King for her improved and expeditious method of obtaining the most perfect Likenesses in one Minute. Specimens of the first Personages and most distinguished Nobility may be seen. Attends from Eleven to Three only.' The Rate Books for St George's Parish, Hanover Square, show that Robert Henderson paid the rates for the premises at 131 New Bond Street in 1784, 1785 and 1786. As the painted profile of Pitt, illustrated in Section Two, bears the New Bond Street label, and is dated 1785, it is evident that Mrs Harrington merely rented a studio at this address and that the householder was Robert Henderson.

Jackson records (Dictionary) that in 1782 the artist exhibited at this address 'portraits' of Admiral Lord Howe and Lord Shelbourne, painted on silk. Mrs Harrington backed some of her profiles with black silk, but, as she had stated in some of her earlier advertisements that she taught painting on silk, these portraits may actually have been painted in colour on silk, and not have been examples of her silhouette work. (In the autumn of 1782 Lord Howe was much in the news; he had recently commanded the difficult operation for the relief of Gibraltar.)

No labelled example of Mrs Harrington's work dated later than 1785 has been recorded. Mr W. E. Fox-Smith, however, owns an unsigned example (clearly dated 1787) which does look very much like the work of this artist; the sitter was the Reverend John Elgee, Curate, and later Archdeacon, of Wexford. It is possible that Mrs Harrington, after a spell in London, travelled to Ireland. She may well have been prompted to cease working in London by the work produced by Mrs Beetham at 27 Fleet Street, which, from 1785, was notable both for quantity and quality. Her patent of 1775, however, would have had to be revised if it were to be operative in Ireland. Perhaps John Elgee had his profile taken while he was on a visit to England. It is not possible to say more than that, so far, this appears to be the latest dated silhouette which can be ascribed to Mrs Harrington, and this only tentatively. I have already expressed the conjecture that she may have been about forty years old in 1772. By the late 1780s she may well have been of an age to retire from her strenuous career as a silhouette artist, and she may, indeed, have acquired a sufficiently secure financial position to do so.

No account of this enterprising and intelligent woman would be complete without a mention of the fact that (at least while she was working in South Molton Street in 1779) she was a publisher of prints. I have already alluded to this in my reference above to her print of her silhouette of William Crotch, but other prints by her must presumably exist. It is not known, however, whether she published prints at 131 New Bond Street as well as cutting and painting profiles.

I give below a chronological summary of Mrs Harrington's travels, and of crucial points in her career, based on information contained in the advertisements and other sources which I have mentioned and as full as this information allows.

1774 10 November - 8 December Bath

1775 21 January 11 February Bristol

?March Gloucester

?April Worcester

From 6 May for a few weeks Oxford

June (patent arrangements) London

From 26 June, and July Oxford

Last months of the year Cambridge

1776 Early months Cambridge

9 March Norwich
 From II May for a few weeks (on her journey to London) Oxford

?August London

Late summer and/or autumn Manchester,

Liverpool, and Doncaster

26 November Leeds

1777 6 January Dissolution of the partnership with Mrs Collins

1778 Early in the year King's Lynn

1779 1 April at 62 South Molton Street London

From 26 June for a few weeks Oxford

1780 ?Leeds

1782 ?Bath

At 131 New Bond Street London

1785 Dated profile of Pitt,

131 New Bond Street London

?1787 Ireland

Since possibly at least three artists apart from Mrs Harrington (Mrs Collins and possibly Abraham Jones and Steel!, qq.v.) were producing profiles by the hollow-cut method just before and just after 1780, the isolation of the work of Mrs Harrington, who is well known as an exponent of this technique, has not been easy. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Mrs Harrington did not use a trade label until she had settled at 131 New Bond Street, though she did sometimes inscribe the back of the frames of some of her early silhouettes. Also, she was one of the earliest profilists, having been at work at least as early as 1774; no doubt, at this stage, competition was not sufficiently formidable to prompt her to use a trade label (although W. J. Jolliffe had used one as early as 1767). Furthermore, she travelled a good deal (for most of the time, in fact, during the 1770s), and there may have been times when she had no studio in London. Hollow-cut silhouettes bearing the trade label of Mrs Harrington at 131 New Bond Street, however, have been discovered, and these make it possible to describe the features of her style.

I have already said (Chapter Two) that the earliest cut profiles were not cut from ready-made black paper, but from white paper which was afterwards blackened, no doubt by a variety of methods, such as rubbing with lampblack (probably with the addition of a fixative) or using Indian ink. It is not surprising that an artist like Mrs Harrington, whose output was enormous, adopted the hollow-cut method, by which the profile was cut in white paper and the outline (after the removal of the actual cut profile) was then backed with a piece of black paper. For the paper which she used for the backing was in fact ready-made in black, and therefore she did not have to spend time in colouring it. On the other hand, although it was perfectly suitable for backing a hollow-cut profile, it was so rough in texture (almost as rough as emery paper) that it would have been impossible to cut a silhouette from it by the standard (not hollow-cut) method with any hope of rendering the sitter's features with any precision. The backing was placed loose behind the back of the profile. Other early artists, working in the hollow-cut technique, sometimes stuck the two pieces of white and black paper together, usually at the bottom; but this was not Mrs Harrington's method.

The rough paper which I have described was used for almost all the profiles that can be ascribed to Mrs Harrington. One or two examples were backed with a smooth-surfaced laid paper. Either this was added as a replacement, or the artist occasionally ran out of the rough paper which she normally used and had to use instead blackened pieces of white paper; sometimes she used black silk.

The bust-line finish of these hollow-cut profiles hardly varies. Mrs Harrington had to incise the paper with her knife at some point, and the point of entry is sometimes visible. It is never at the base of the paper; on the work of some artists there is a slash right from the base of the paper to the base of the bust-line. Mrs Harrington also took care when rendering eyelashes. Usually she cut a nick in the paper, and pushed the edges apart to indicate the shape of the eyelash.

After she had produced the basic outline with her apparatus. she sketched it in on the white paper with a pencil before cutting it out. These rough pencil marks can often be seen on parts of her profiles.

Mrs Harrington generally cut bows in a simple manner. She was working at a time when men were wearing catogan (or club) wigs, on which bows were not a prominent feature; but even when she cut a profile of a man wearing a pigtail wig, on which the bows would be larger, she did not cut these with special clarity. She also cut quite simply the bows on women's ribbon necklaces or decorative hair-styles.

It has often been stated that the presence of a little bow at the nape of the sitter's neck is a sign of Mrs Harrington's work. This is not so, however. It simply happened that ribbon necklaces tied at the back of the neck were fashionable among women at the time when Mrs Harrington was producing her early work and her sitters therefore wore them. After c. 1777 these necklaces might be tied at the front; female sitters, whose profiles were taken after this date, might be shown wearing them.

Many of Mrs Harrington's silhouettes have a scalloped edge: for instance, where the sitter is a man wearing a shirt-frill. On some examples, she indicates buttons on men's coats by cutting these out in tiny triangles.

434, 439

Some early hollow-cut profiles show men's shirt-frills cut in zig-zag fashion, and not scalloped; I do not think, however, that any work of this kind can be ascribed with certainty to Mrs Harrington.

Sarah Harrington was a competent artist, and could teach the art of drawing and painting even on silk, but she did not use a brush on any known examples of her enormous output of hollow-cut profiles. Her enterprise in this field must have been financially so well rewarded that she did not consider her medium needed any elaboration.

With regard to the problem of distinguishing Mrs Harrington s work from Mrs Collins's, it has been suggested that Mrs Harrington cut the more 'dressy' profiles, and Mrs Collins the plainer ones. This theory has no foundation. If one of Mrs Harrington's sitters was wearing a highly decorated hair-style, this would appear on the profile; if not, then it would not. It is uncertain that Mrs Collins's work will ever be clearly distinguished from that of Mrs Harrington, unless a signed profile by Mrs Collins should come to light. Certainly, by 1778 Mrs Collins was producing far more complicated work (possibly on glass) than that on the plain machine-cut profiles of Mrs Harrington.

For the styles of frame used by Mrs Harrington see Chapter Three.

Ills. 1, 19, 98, 100, 172, 228, 238, 429-444

3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.
Trade Label
Frame: oval, ebonised wood, with crenellated gilt surround


From the collection of the late J. C. Woodiwiss


John Houblon, only son of Jacob and Susanna Houblon, of Hallingbury Place, Essex and Welford, Berkshire.
Silhouette by Mrs Sarah Harrington, April 1778. (See 238 for a silhouette of John’s sister).


costume dating points
The slouch hat, similar to that worn by Benjamin Way in 229.
John was five years old when his silhouette was taken, and Benjamin was nine when his was taken, but the hats hardly differ in style.
The length of the hair, typical of the period.


By courtesy of Major and Mrs J. H. Puxley


Maria Houblon, daughter of Jacob and Susanna Houblon
Silhouette by Mrs Sarah Harrington, taken in April 1778, when Maria was aged six.


costume dating points
The height of the hair, which indicates a date in the late 1770s, and the fringe.
The length of the hair at the back.
The soft cap with a ruched border and high crown, worn to accommodate the high hair-style.
The absence of a frill on the neck-line of the dress, such as would be present on a dress of the 1780s.


By courtesy of Major and Mrs J. H. Puxley



The title-page of New and Elegant Amusements for the Ladies of Great Britain, ‘by a Lady’ (1772).


Author’s collection


Unknown man
Hollow-cut silhouette
? 20 January 1775
Miss A. Dyer
Hollow-cut silhouette
Unknown man
Hollow-cut silhouette
? 1775
3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.
Frame: oval, giltwood, possibly original


Possibly taken in Bristol during Mrs Harrington’s visit in early 1775.


City Art Gallery, Bristol


George John, second Earl Spencer
Hollow-cut silhouette
Mr Hatsells
Hollow-cut silhouette
c. 1777
3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.


Mrs Hatsells
Hollow-cut silhouette
c. 1777
3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.
Frame: oval, ebonised wood, with crebellated gilt surround


On the reverse of the silhouette (the companion to the one shown in 435) is the following inscription: ‘Daughter of Geoffrey Ekins. Our dear sister Hatsells. For my daughter Susan when I can see it no longer.’


M. A. H. Christie collection


Unknown man
Hollow-cut silhouette
? Late 1770s
Unknown man
Hollow-cut silhouette
c. 1780
3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.
Frame: brown pearwood


The sitter’s buttons are cut in the same way as on the example shown in 439, which bears Mrs Harrington’s trade label. The usual rough paper has been used for the backing.


T. E. F. Sainsbury collection


Unknown boy
Hollow-cut silhouette
c. 1782
3½ x 2 5/8 in.790 x 67mm.
Trade Label
Frame: oval, ebonised wood, with crenellated gilt surround


Note the style of cutting the buttons, which are indicated by small triangles cut in the white paper. This silhouette has been enlarged in reproduction in order to show Mrs Harrington’s typical style of cutting.


By courtesy of Mrs D. Adams


Unknown girl
Hollow.cut silhouette
c. 1782
3½ x 2 5/8 in./90 x 67mm.
Trade Label
Frame: oval, ebonised wood, with crenellated gilt surround


The subject of this silhouette (taken at 131 New Bond Street, London) may be the sister of the boy shown in 439. This silhouette has been enlarged in reproduction in order to show Mrs Harrington’s typical style of cutting.


By courtesy of Mrs D. Adams


Mr Taylor
Hollow-cut silhouette
Unknown girl
Hollow-cut silhouette
?c. 1784-85
3½ x 2½in./90 x 64mm.
Trade Label
Frame: oval, ebonised wood, with crenellated gilt surround


The sitter’s fashionable hat, worn titled back, suggests the date of c. 1784-85.


J. A. Pollak collection


Trade Label used by Mrs Harrington at 131 New Bond Street, London. I do not think that she used trade labels before she took this studio in c. 1780. This label is very small, and most surviving examples are in poor condition.


Author’s collection


E. Chambers
Silhouette by Mrs Sarah Harrington, 14 April 1775.


costume dating points
The ordinary three-cornered hat of the 1770s.
The Catogan, or club wig.
The pre-1785 stock, with no bows in front.
The evidence of a small standing collar, typical of the type of coat in fashion in 1775.


Author’s collection