Silhouettist Charles Burns is the UK’s premier exponent of the old English art of making silhouette portraits.
After leaving art college Charles began his career as a street artist in Covent Garden, just a stone’s throw from the hotel, drawing portraits for tourists. During this inauspicious beginning he taught himself to cut silhouettes because “nobody else seemed to be doing it”.
Today Charles is a well-known figure making appearances at some of London’s most elegant high-society events. He three times cut the portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth, as well as silhouettes of both current monarchs.
To discover more about the history of silhouettes, Charles would love to accompany you on a stroll along the Strand. This ancient London street was home to many famous silhouettists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
1 - national portrait gallery
Hubert Leslie was a World War I veteran who cut silhouettes on Brighton Pier, on the south coast of England during the 1920s and 30s. When he died in 1976, he left to the National Portrait Gallery a set of duplicate albums containing some 20,000 silhouettes. Charles never met him, yet regards Leslie as his first teacher; he learned his craft by studying these albums in the gallery’s archive room. The albums are not on public display, but you can make an appointment to see them in the archive room if you wish to see this extraordinary and little-known collection.
2 - Covent Garden
The piazza at Covent Garden is the centre of London’s thriving street performance scene. You can wander these ancient cobbles to see all manner of musicians, jugglers and other curiosities. Some are truly amazing, but these days you’re unlikely to spot a silhouettist (although you never know), but why not stop to have your portrait drawn?
Charles' book Mastering Silhouettes offers fascinating insights into both the practice and history of the silhouette.
Get in touch to talk to our knowledgeable Concierge to create a One Aldwych experience inspired by Charles that is completely tailored to you. Give us a call on +44 (0)20 730 1000 or drop us an email to tell us more about what you would like to do during your stay.