Hubert Leslie

Portrait of Hubert (7k Jpeg)

A portrait of Hubert Leslie by Rex Cowgill. I'm almost tempted to add the famous grin!

"May fortune always smile on you
Like me, from (y)ear to (y)ear!"

(Hubert Leslie, 1948)



Hubert Leslie is without doubt one of my favourite artists. His work provides a continuing source of inspiration for me, both as artist and entertainer.

Almost all Mr Leslie's silhouettes (some 30,000 of them) were cut during his "Brighton Pier" years (1921-36). Like Edouart and others before him, Mr Leslie was meticulous about keeping his duplicates, which he pasted into albums right there on the pier as he made them. The great advantage of this was that he was able to ask his subjects to sign their own portraits in his book! These duplicate albums (some 20 or so I believe) were donated to The National Portrait Gallery in London on his death, where they are now kept in storage. They form a fascinating collection, and I was fortunate to be able to spend some time studying these duplicates when I first started cutting silhouettes myself.

Leslie Ladies (32k jpeg)

Two ladies by Hubert Leslie, c.1930


Hubert Leslie's silhouettes are characterized by a deftness of touch and economy of style. Like many artists of his day he relied on a rough pencil outline on the reverse of his silhouettes, which he then mostly ignored in a freehand cutting of the person! His use of elegant cuts to indicate arms and legs is his hallmark, quite different from the busy slash-cutting of his contemporaries such as Baron Scotford and Peggy Newell. In my opinion Hubert Leslie is every bit the equal of more famous earlier artists (such as Edouart).

Man with wine glass (66k Jpeg)

Maurice Baring balances a wine glass on his head. A humourous silhouette by Hubert Leslie. This kind of on-the-spot cutting is at the heart of the joy people find in silhouettes.



On Art and Entertainment

Sylvia's silhouette (7k Jpeg)

S-s-sylvia's S-s-silhouette

"Sylvia seeks silhouettist's skill sketching self-same sitter's shadow, seen sideways. Some sixty seconds speed silently. Sylvia stands stock still, scarcely stirring. Soon, surveying subsequent scissored sciagraph, Sylvia smiles sweetly, showering small silver shillings, sixpences."

(Extract from "Sylvia's Silhouette" by Hubert Leslie)


After silhouettes, Hubert Leslie's other great talent was for alliteration, well, for playing with words in general. He was one of those people who could finish cryptic crosswords, something I could never manage! Throughout the 1940's he concentrated on his work as an entertainer, touring schools throughout England with a one man stage act called "Artful Art and Breathless Brainwaves" (one man and a drawing board...) This consisted, among other things, of a series of alliterations, often made up on the spot (or provided by the audience) which he would illustrate with rapid skethes and silhouettes.


Sylvia's silhouette (8k Jpeg)

"Famous French Fricasseur Frying Fine Fat Frogs over a Flaming Fiery Furnace"


One of the highlights of the show , would have been Mr Leslie's rendition of "S-s-sylvia's S-s-silhouette", a 1,300 word story, of which every single word begins with the letter "S"! This improbable feat would be enough for most people, but while telling the story he would simultaneously cut out a life-size silhouette of Sylvia herself, displaying it to the audience at the end. The story is divided into three parts; "Start", "Second Section" and "Sequel", before "Story Stops". I've tried reading the story out loud myself, but got into severe difficulties. The big problem must have been to keep the paper dry!


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©Charles Burns/www.roving-artist.com/The Edo Barn Site/silhouettes@me.com/This page was first created in September 1997 and last updated August 2012