One of the most interesting traditions of silhouette cutting in this country is the tradition of seaside pier silhouettes. The story of Brighton is the one which has captured my imagination! The first pier at Brighton was known as The Chain Pier, and there was a silhouettist working on it throughout most of it's history, until it was taken down around 1890.
The West Pier opened in 1866, however it's not certain there were any silhouettists working there until after the closure of the Chain Pier. Once established, the silhouette tradition continued there until shortly before it's closure in the 1970's.
Rider to The Chain Pier, mounted on rose glass
The first Brighton Pier artist (to my knowledge) was John Gapp, who cut full length portraits from paper and bronzed them with gold, after the fashion of the day. He seems to have had an obsession with gloves, and could hardly resist depicting his subjects holding a pair of gloves. Still, I like his work for all that. The next artist, E. Haines, was certainly more accomplished, and his work is highly sought after by collectors today. Many of his subjects are depicted holding a hat or cane. He sometimes seems to have had a problem with legs, which sometimes have a naive "Egyptian" quality about them, being one behind the other! However his work is more inventive and experimental than his predecessor. They were succeeded by G.A. Lloyd. The Chain Pier stood until 1890 or so, but I've no idea if any artist worked there after the opening of the West Pier.
Silhouettes by John Gapp (left), E.Haines (centre) & G.A.Lloyd (right), of The Chain Pier
G.A. Lloyd began work on the Chain Pier in 1863, and worked there until the early 1880's (with brief episodes working in Littlehampton & Worthing). He seems to have worked mainly with bust and half-length silhouettes, and like many silhouettists of the day he also worked in the new medium of photography, since silhouettes had begun to seem rather out-dated! He is known for taking a series of very early photographs of Brighton, including this one showing where he worked at the end of the Chain Pier. The photograph is looking back down the pier towards Brighton. Further information about this artist on the Photo-history of Sussex page.
Silhouettes by Huardel Bly, of The West Pier, c.1920
The first twentieth century silhouettist that I know of was Huardel Bly. I'm not sure if any other artists preceeded him there, but it's quite possible there were none. Silhouette artists died out almost completely at the end of the nineteenth century, finding it impossible to compete as photography became progressively more and more affordable. Bly was a talented French artist, specializing in freehand, bust length profiles.
Huardel Bly's work is marked by a lively and inspired style of cutting, with a restrained and tasteful use of slash cut embellishments to indicate collars, etc. You can always spot one of his silhouettes by the "shoe" shape of the bust line (see the illustration below). Bly was followed by Hubert Leslie, without doubt the best silhouettist of this period working in the UK (and to whom I've devoted a seperate page). Hubert Leslie remained there until the Second World War, and was succeeded by Arthur Forrester who worked on the West Pier throughout the 1950's. Arthur later passed the business onto his son John.
A silhouette by Arthur Forrester in my collection. Mr Forrester revived the silhouette tradition after the second world war, but did not have quite the skill of his predecessors. Still, I'm fond of this cutting, which seems to have been a early one, to judge by the hat!
Arthur Forrester's silhouette studio on The West Pier during the 1950's.
I visited Brighton myself in 1989. At that time I was just starting my own career as a silhouettist and had my eye on the "Brighton Tradition" as a possible line of business. I spoke with the management of the current Pier, but they were not at all interested in my ideas, and thought silhouettes had died out a hundred years ago! Since then I've found more appreciative audiences elsewhere. Still, the idea lingers.
There were plans afoot to rebuild the old West Pier at Brighton and return it to it's former glory. Like many others I watched with interest. Perhaps there was still a glimmer of hope for a Brighton Pier Silhouette Tradition in the twenty-first century? However the recent arson attacks have reduced the pier to a complete wreck, and I fear restoration is no longer an option.
The desolate West Pier at Brighton, as it stood until the recent fires detroyed it altogether.
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©Charles Burns/www.roving-artist.com/The Edo Barn Siteemail@example.com/This page was first created in September 1997 and last updated August 2012