Exhibit of Week: From ship-owner’s son to wealthy politician

Portrait of Edward Hopper Hebden in the Scarborough Collections.
Portrait of Edward Hopper Hebden in the Scarborough Collections.

Two portraits which provide a poignant meditation on the nature of ageing – they’re both of the same man, but 68 years apart.

In the first picture, the silhouette, Edward Hopper Hebden is seen as a young child. He was born in 1794, and the handwritten inscription on it (it’s from an album of apparently fairly random items in the Scarborough Collections) tells us that it was created in 1800, so the boy would have been five or six.

Silhouette portrait of Edward Hopper Hebden when he was five or six.

Silhouette portrait of Edward Hopper Hebden when he was five or six.

In the oil painting, we see the same man at 74 or 75, clad in hunting gear and astride his beautifully groomed chestnut horse. He’s clearly come up somewhat in the world – the form was a relatively cheap way of preserving a likeness.

The term ‘silhouette’ is derived from the name of the French finance minster Étienne de Silhouette, who imposed severe economic restrictions on the country during a credit crisis in the Seven Years War of 1754 to 1863. His name became associated with anything done cheaply, and has survived in these outline portraits, sometimes drawn and then cut from black card, although highly skilled artists might cut purely by eye.

By his old age, Hebden had amassed sufficient wealth and status to be worthy of a portrait in oils by Thomas Jones Barker, a leading portraitist and painter of historical scenes, whose Relief of Lucknow now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery (you can see it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-relief-of-lucknow-1857).

Banker Edward Hopper Hebden was born in Scarborough to a ship-owning family in an inn on the seafront, the British Workman. In 1818, he married into more money – Mary Tindall was from a local family of bankers and shipbuilders (Frank Henry Mason’s colourful recreation of Tindall’s Shipyard, painted in 1909, can be seen in the current exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery, Frank Henry Mason – the man and his methods).

The couple were to have nine children, the first of whom, also called Edward Hopper Hebden (1819-1895), was deaf and dumb throughout his life. Fourth son William was also a banker. The other children were James, John, Tindall, Henry, Mary, Elizabeth and Louisa.

Hebden was already connected to the Scarborough banking family, the Woodalls – one of his three sisters had married into the family. One of the leading Woodalls, John, was a contemporary of Hebden’s, and was Mayor of Scarborough in 1851-1852, endowing the town with the mayoral chains which are still in use today, and building the house which is now the Town Hall.

The three families – Hebdens, Woodalls and Tindalls – were dominant forces in banking in Scarborough throughout the 19th century: in the early part of the century, they were Woodall, Hebden & Co; in 1842, became Bell, Woodall & TIndall; by 1845, Woodall Hebden; and by 1849, Woodall, Hebden & Hardcastle.

Edward Hopper Hebden was the Mayor of Scarborough in 1850-51 (the year before his friend and colleague John Woodall) and Chairman of the local Conservative Party.

But by 1826, as the town’s Senior Bailiff, he was already sufficiently powerful to be asked to lay the foundation stone for the building of the Spa Bridge by the Cliff Bridge Company. The bridge, which opened to the public (or those who could pay the toll that was enforced back then), was an important step in opening up the town and the Spa for visitors.

If you want to see Hebden’s grave you can find it in St Mary’s Churchyard, near that of Anne Brontë.

The two portraits are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.