The painting above is by Henry James Gibbins, a prolific amateur watercolourist who exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871. In his professional life Henry was a hairdresser, perfumer and purveyor of European fabrics and other finery, operating for many years from 7 King Street, St James, London, adjacent to the auction house Christie’s. Much of the property at the site was destroyed by German bombing in 1941, though Christie’s was rebuilt using the surviving façade and there is still a sense today of the appearance of the street during the early Victorian period when 'Gibbins’s Establishment' and his large family occupied the premises alongside.
The place of St James’s in the fine-arts trade was boosted after the French Revolution and then the fall of Napoleon, both of which brought greater exposure of French fashion to London. Henry – who followed his father Samuel into the profession –had himself gone to France to study his trade, at the 'Eleve de M. Nardin de Paris'. There he may have met his future wife, Louise Victoire Alphonsine Marchand, whose father was a perruquier (wigmaker) in Orleans and whose brother Isidore was to become a hairdresser to Queen Victoria.
Henry’s diverse business interests can be seen in the newspaper adverts in the gallery at the bottom of this page, showing that as well as being a hairdresser, perfumer and peruke (wig) maker, he marketed his own hair-restorer, ‘Gibbins’s Cream of Roses and Rosemary’, and took trips to the Continent to acquire materials for embroidery, tapestry-making and other ladies' occupations, as well as finished products. The trade card below extolling his French credentials (click to enlarge) is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. He made enough money to invest in the burgeoning insurance business, becoming a director of Prudential Assurance Company and leaving considerable shares in the company to his five daughters, as well as, to his wife, ‘ paintings, pictures, water-colour drawings and sketches, plate, china, linen, musical instruments, books and other articles of domestic use or ornament and wines, liquors and consumable stores …’
His dated watercolours known to me are of the 1860s and early 1870s, suggesting that this was a passion of his retirement after he had turned over the St James’s business to a son-in-law. His output was large - one descendant estimates that he may have completed a hundred or more paintings, based on the numbers known to be held by descendants as well as those recorded in recent auction catalogues. They include rural landscapes and architectural studies in Britain and abroad, with scenes in Germany, France and Switzerland that may have been inspired by his travels there during his professional life, or painted during travels in his retirement. At least one portrait exists, of his daughter Alphonsine. The two paintings known to have been exhibited by him were ‘Boulogne – low water’, at the Royal Academy in 1871, and ‘Herne Bay’ at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1872.
In addition to the two pictures above, the gallery below shows six of his watercolours for which I have decent images (click to enlarge). The upper three, all within one frame, are miniatures (the first only 11.5 by 9 cm) showing scenes on the Rhine, the last titled 'Fribourg' and signed. The lower three, all signed and titled, show Berne, dated 1860 (22.5 by 29.5 cm), Lewes (22 by 31.5 cm) and Hastings Castle (18 by 28 cm).
The picture below of an archway (click to enlarge), on paper and 11 by 15 cm, has the pencil inscription on the back 'This picture I did draw (it) but papa did paint (it)', with the names Mrs Uridge and Henry Gibbins. Mrs Uridge (pictured right, the photo taken in Montreux) was Henry's eldest daughter, Adele Victorine Uridge (nee Gibbins), born in 1830, and the writing suggests that she made the sketch as a girl.
The gallery of newspaper excerpts below (click to enlarge), from The Morning Post unless otherwise indicated, is a selection from many adverts for Gibbins' products in the London newspapers of the time, including The Morning Post, The Spectator, The Examiner, The Illustrated London News, London Charivari, The Indian News and The Court Journal. The earliest shown here, from 1825 for 'Bear's Grease', refers to the salon in Fleet Market of Henry's father, Samuel Gibbins (1775/6-1843). The rest are for Henry's own establishment in St James's, and chart his prosperity from soon after his return from Paris in the late 1820s to a time when 'Gibbins's Establishment' included 'salons de coiffure', premises for teaching hairdressing and his 'German and French Warehouse' for selling a wide range of products imported from the Continent, many of them not directly connected with hairdressing but clearly aimed at the well-to-do ladies who frequented his establishment.
For further details on Henry and his large number of descendants, including families in Australia, South Africa and Canada, go to Humphrey Stead's history here. More on Henry's daughter Adele Uridge and her family can be found here, and on Henry's brother Edward Baines Gibbins and his family here. My branch of the Gibbins family is descended from Henry's other brother, Samuel Gibbins (1808-1886), a wool trader who became a Common Councillor of the City of London and Master of the Carpenters' Company.