Friday, 18 September 2009

William Seville (1797-1866), silhouette and photographic artist

I have written previously (here) about Derby's first photographers John Johnson and Thomas Roberts, who operated daguerreotype studios in Victoria Street from the summer of 1843 until September 1845, under license from Richard Beard. From then until about 1854, there appears to have been a hiatus in commercial photographic activity in the town.

Then, in the early to mid-1850s, with the expiry of the patent on the daguerreotype process and the popularisation of Frederick Scott Archer's patent-free wet-collodion process, there was a sudden and rapid flurry of photographic activity in Derby. Most, if not all, of the photographic artists who appeared are likely to have been offering collodion-positive portraits, or ambrotypes as they were popularly known.

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 20 March 1850
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

Many of these early photographers came to the profession from an artistic background, which included portrait painting in oils or water colours, full-size and miniatures, and silhouette portraiture. One such practitioner was William Seville, an experienced silhouette artist from Manchester. His first recorded appearance in Derby was in March 1850, when he placed an advertisement in The Derby Mercury advising residents that he was producing "the most striking and perfect likenesses" from premises at 42 Queen Street, Derby. He offered ...
... an exact likeness for 6d., beautifully shaded, 1s. 6d., extra finished in bronze, 2s. Full length figures highly finished in bronze, 4s.; children's full lengths, 2s. 6d. Miniatures on ivory and coloured likenesses at very low charges. Families attended without any extra charge.
William Seville was baptised on 5 March 1797 in the chapelry of Hey, at Lees near Oldham, north-east of Manchester, one of seven children of Joseph and Sarah Seville (or Sevill). According to the biographical notes in Sue McKechnie's British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860, William Seville started working as a silhouette artist in Manchester shortly before 1820 (Woodiwiss, 1965).

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
? Miss Margaret Clutterbuck (1780-1855)
of Alnwick & Newcastle-on-Tyne, undated
Gold-coloured black card cut-out silhouette by William Seville
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green

It appears that he almost immediately started travelling widely as an itinerant artist, with a record of his being in North Shields (Northumberland) in April 1820 (Jackson, 1911).

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
Reverse of Clutterbuck silhouette
"Cut with common scissors by Mr Seville
without either drawing or machine"
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green

At around this time - the exact date is unknown - William Seville probably married Frances Bethell (1803-1837), daughter of Joseph and Fanny Bethell of Chester. William's son Frederick William Seville was born at Durham (City) around 1824 or 1825. Certainly by April 1824 he was working in nearby Newcastle-on-Tyne. The silhouette portrait illustrated above - the subject of which has been tentatively identified as the splendidly monikered Miss Margaret Clutterbuck, daughter of eminent Northumbrian John Clutterbuck and his wife Ann Lyon - may have been from this or a later period.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
Mr. W. Seville label
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green

Seville was also in Lancaster during 1824, and then in Dundee from April 1825; McKechnie suggests that he may have spent much of that year in Scotland. There is a suggestion that he worked in East Anglia during the late 1820s in partnership with fellow artist John Stannard.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
Unidentified man, undated
Framed, gold-coloured black card cut-out silhouette by William Seville
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green

In August 1830 Seville was plying his trade in Castletown, Dublin, Ireland, known from a dated portrait (McKechnie).

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Preston Chronicle, 22 September 1832
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

By September 1832 he appears to have been working in Preston (Lancashire) judging from the advertisement which appeared in The Preston Chronicle in that month, which suggests he had also taken "thousands of likenesses in Bolton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, &c.." His wife Fanny died at Sheffield on 10 May 1837 "after a long and painful illness," as reported in The Manchester Times and Gazette (13 May 1837).

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The North Wales Chronicle, 21 August 1838
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

By August 1838, William Seville was working at Bangor in Wales. Apart from his usual full range of silhouettes, he also offered to teach the art of making wax flowers and gave lessons in landscape and flower painting, mezzotinting, velvet painting, &c."

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Article extract from The North Wales Chronicle, 28 August 1838
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

A newspaper report a week later suggested that he was finding a steady stream of customers, but his last advertisements on 4 September and 2 October reported his intention to leave "in the course of a few days."

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Article extract from Freeman's Journal & Daily Commercial Advertiser,
(Dublin, Ireland), 7 February 1843
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

McKechnie suggests that Seville had returned to Ireland by August 1842, and believes that his son may have been assisting him by this time. His son would have been about seventeen years old by then, and since neither of them has been located in the 1841 Census of the United Kingdom, it seems quite likely that they had both taken the short journey from Liverpool across the Irish Sea.

Image © Courtesy of Peggy McClard Antiques
Label on the reverse of Smyth Family silhouette, shown below
Image © Courtesy of Peggy McClard Antiques

This is supported by a dated and signed silhouette of the Smyth family now in a private collection. An image of the label on the reverse kindly sent to me by Peggy McClard, who used to own the silhouette, states that it was "cut with scissors by F.W. Seville / Drogheda / Novr. 1842." A Dublin newspaper advertisement of February 1843, shown above, indicates that they remained there for some months.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
Unidentified man, undated
Framed, gold-coloured black card cut-out silhouette by William Seville
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green

By January 1845 Seville was in Shrewsbury (Shropshire), as evidenced by a dated portrait and handbill (McKechnie).

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 5 June 1850
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

The next sighting of Seville is when he appeared in Derby in March 1850. Business remained fairly brisk until early June, when the appearance of another advertisement suggested an impending departure from Derby.

Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
The Smyth Family, Drogheda (Ireland), November 1842
Framed, gold-coloured black card cut-out silhouette by William Seville
Image © and courtesy of Cynthia McKinley & Wigs on the Green
Original in private collection

It is not clear what William Seville did for the next five years, although it is clear that this was probably one of the most challenging periods of his career, with daguerreotype photography - and the rapid introduction of collodion portraits after 1854 - providing some serious competition to his now old-fashioned silhouettes.

Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk
30 March 1851 Census Extract: North Tawton Devon NA Ref. HO107/1885/658/7/23
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk

On census night Sunday 30 March 1851, William Seville's son Frederick William was lodging with a bookseller's wife in the small village of North Tawton in Devon. He described himself as an artist. Sadly, his father is nowhere to be found - perhaps he was travelling in Ireland again.

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 15 August 1855
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

William Seville returned to Derby in mid-August 1855, the evidence being in the form of an advertisement in The Derby Mercury offering collodion photographic portraits at the "reduced" price of 2s. each, case included, from premises at No. 51 St Peter's Street, Derby, directly opposite St Peter's church.


Location of William Seville's photographic studio
at 51 St Peter's Street, Derby
View Derby Studios in a larger map


Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
St Peter's Street, Derby (looking north), c.1890
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

This view looking north up St Peter's Street was probably taken around 1890, some 35 years after Seville was there. The photograph belongs to Nigel Aspdin and shows the draper's shop of Hurd & Dean - number 54 St Peter's Street, at centre right - John Dean (1853-1918) being a relation of Nigel's. Although the building at number 54 was probably built after Seville's era, it seems likely that number 51 was located in a yard behind the shops. This would have been accessible through an alley to the right of the drapery shop, an archway to which can just be seen in a detailed version of the image (here).

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 12 September 1855
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

While his name was not mentioned in that particular edition of the newspaper, it is clear from a similar insertion four weeks later, on 12 September, that it was Seville who had succumbed to market forces and was trying his hand at the then fairly new wet collodion photographic process.

Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 19 December 1855
Image © British Library Newspapers and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

At the onset of the Christmas season, the business had acquired the rather grand name of the "Crystal Palace Portrait Gallery." The Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park, London to house the hugely popular Great Exhibition of 1851, but relocated to Sydenham in 1854. In the same year a book entitled The Portrait Gallery of the Crystal Palace by Samuel Phillips was published, being an official handbook or catalogue of portraits of eminent Victorians chosen for display at the exhibition. It is possible that Seville intended a play on the title of this book for added publicity.

Image © and courtesy of the University of Leicester's Historical Directories Project
Extract from F. White's 1857 History, Gazetteer & Directory of the County of Derby
Image © and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk

He remained in Derby for several months more, long enough at least to appear in White's 1857 trade directory, presumably compiled in late 1856, at the same address. It is worth noting that while Seville inserted advertisements in many newspapers over the years, advertising his presence in a particular town for a few weeks or perhaps months, this is the only trade directory entry found thus far, indicative of the itinerant nature of his trade. There is no evidence that he ever operated a photographic studio in his presumed home town of Manchester.

Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk
7 April 1861 Census Extract: Shoplatch, Shrewsbury, Shropshire NA Ref. Ref. RG9/1873/41/10/68
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk

In late 1856 Frederick William Seville had married and settled in Shrewsbury (Shropshire), with a daughter being born to him and his wife Elizabeth late the following year. By early April 1861 William Seville had joined them, living in Shoplatch, close to the centre of the town where his son operated a photographic studio and tobacconist. Now aged 64, he described himself to the census enumerator as a retired artist.

Image © and courtesy of AskArt.com
H.E. Smallwood, 1841
Full length gold-coloured silhouette portrait by F.W. Seville
Image © and courtesy of AskArt.com

William Seville died in 1866 at the age of 68. Frederick William Seville continued to reside in Shrewsbury with his wife and three children, and described himself in census records as both artist and photographer until at least 1881. The dated silhouette portrait of H.E. Smallwood from 1841 shown above is ascribed to F.W. Seville.

Image © and courtesy of Live Auctioneers
Disaster at St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, February 11th, 1894
Watercolour, signed and inscribed by F.W. Seville, 21" x 14.5"
Image © and courtesy of Live Auctoneers

No photographic portraits by the younger Seville have been located but he became a well known watercolourist, producing many views of late Victorian Shrewsbury. The watercolour shown above depicts an event which occurred on 11 February 1894, and is likely to have been painted shortly afterwards.

F.W. Seville's son, also named Frederick William, continued the tradition and became a photographer too, being listed with this profession in Shrewsbury by 1891 at the age of 23. After the death of both of his parents in 1899 he moved to Congleton (Cheshire), where his sister and brother-in-law were living, and was shown working from premises at 10 Lawton Street as late as 1914 (Jones & Jones, 1995).

After a career spanning some four decades William Seville left a vast body of work, probably amounting several thousand silhouettes. While only a small proportion of these have survived the subsequent century and a half, silhouettes by Seville appear not to be particularly uncommon. The status of any surviving collodion portraits, however, is unknown. Judging by the fact that many, if not most, of his silhouettes were identified with a label, it seems likely that his cased ambrotypes would have been similarly marked. I am hopeful that eventually one of his photographic portraits will surface.

I am very grateful to Cynthia McKinley for her generosity in allowing me to reproduce images of silhouettes in her collection and for providing me with material about William Seville's life and work. Cynthia's web site Wigs on the Green is an excellent source of information about silhouettes and silhouette artists.

Post Script: Thank you, too, to Peggy McClard who sent me images and information about the Smyth family silhouette, and gave me permission to use them to illustrate this article. Peggy has an absorbing web site Peggy McClard Antiques, devoted to antique silhouettes, Americana and related folk art, which is well worth a visit.

References

General Register Office (GRO) Index to Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD

International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church & FamilySearch

UK Census 1841-1901 Indexed images from Ancestry.co.uk

19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning:
The Manchester Times and Gazette
North Wales Chronicle
Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser
The Derby Mercury
The Preston Chronicle

Trade Directories from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories Project:
Wright's Directory of South Derbyshire, 1874
Kelly's Directory of Shropshire, 1891
Kelly's Directory of Herefordshire & Shropshire, 1895
Kelly's Directory of Cheshire, 1914

Coke, Desmond (1915) The Art of the Silhouette. London: Martin Secker. Available from The Internet Archive

Jones, Gillian A. & Jones, Graham (1995) Professional Photographers in Cheshire 1849-1940. Bath, England: Royal Photographic Society Historical Group. The PhotoHistorian Supplement, No. 108, July 1995, 40p. ISSN 09570209.

McKechnie, Sue (1978) British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 824p. ISBN: 0856670367. Extracts courtesy of Cynthia McKinley

McKinley, Cynthia. Guide to Collecting Silhouettes. Wigs on the Green web site.

Phillips, Samuel (1854) Portrait Gallery of the Crystal Palace. Facsimile edition published 2008 by Euston Grove Press, 240p. (PDF version)

Read, Gillian (1982) Manchester Photographers 1840-1900. Bath, England: Royal Photographic Society Historical Group Newsletter, Supplement No. 59, 1982, 20p.

White, Francis & Co. (1857) History, Gazetteer & Directory of the County of Derby, transcribed by Neil Wilson in PDF format & available from Ancestry's UK City & County Directories

Further Sources
Jackson, E. Nevill (1982) Silhouettes: A History & Dictionary of Artists, Dover Publications. ISBN 0486242102.
[in McKechnie, 1978]
Jackson, E. Nevill (1911) The History of Silhouettes, The Connoisseur. 121p.
Woodiwiss, John (1965) British Silhouettes, Country Life, 104p.

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