Ellen Sharples

Last updated
Ellen Sharples
Self-portrait by Rolinda Sharples, with mother, Ellen Sharples. On permanent display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
Ellen Wallace

(1769-03-04)4 March 1769
Died14 March 1849(1849-03-14) (aged 80)
Nationality English
Known for Painting, Miniaturist
Notable work
George Washington, Joseph Banks
Movement Portrait, Silhouette

Ellen Wallace Sharples (4 March 1769 – 14 March 1849) was an English painter who specialized in portraits in pastel and in watercolor miniatures on ivory. [1] She exhibited five miniatures at the Royal Academy in 1807, and founded the Bristol Fine Arts Academy in 1844 with a substantial gift. [2]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.



Ellen Wallace was born in Bath or Birmingham into a Quaker family. She studied drawing with James Sharples in Bath, her only known art training, and married him in 1787. The couple had two children, both of whom were also painters: James Sharples, Jr. (b. 1788) and Rolinda Sharples (b. 1793). [3] James, who had been widowed twice before, had two sons from his previous marriages, George, with his first wife, and Felix (b. 1786 and also an artist) with his second wife.

James Sharples was an English portrait painter and pastelist, who moved to the United States in 1794. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779.

Bath, Somerset City in Somerset, England

Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset, England, known for its Roman-built baths. In 2011, the population was 88,859. Bath is in the valley of the River Avon, 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 11 miles (18 km) south-east of Bristol. The city became a World Heritage site in 1987.

Rolinda Sharples British artist

Rolinda Sharples (1793–1838) was an English painter who specialised in portraits and genre paintings in oil. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Society of British Artists, where she became an honorary member.

America, 1794-1801

George Washington, 1796-1797, Ellen Sharples George Washington by Ellen Sharples.jpg
George Washington, 1796-1797, Ellen Sharples

The couple emigrated to the United States around 1794 in a harrowing voyage, in which their ship was commandeered by a French privateer. The family was interned at Brest for seven months, and Ellen would later write of the ordeal in her diary: "Our family have experienced; severely experienced much of its misery, and much did we witness during our seven months captivity in France, too heart rending to recall." [4]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Brest, France Subprefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Brest is a port city in the Finistère département in Brittany. Located in a sheltered bay not far from the western tip of the peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon. The city is located on the western edge of continental Europe. With 142,722 inhabitants in a 2007 census, Brest is at the centre of Western Brittany's largest metropolitan area, ranking third behind only Nantes and Rennes in the whole of historic Brittany, and the 19th most populous city in France; moreover, Brest provides services to the one million inhabitants of Western Brittany. Although Brest is by far the largest city in Finistère, the préfecture of the department is the much smaller Quimper.

They eventually made it to America in a move that echoed the fashion of English artists who took advantage of the growing demand for portraiture in the New World. [5] Living in Washington, DC James had great success painting portraits of American leaders (including George Washington). Around 1797, while they were living in Philadelphia, Ellen first began to draw portraits professionally in order to supplement the family’s income. Responding to the great demand for affordable copies, Ellen's career thrived in copying her husband's original portraits on commission, and her miniature copies were priced the same as her husband's. Small portraits, such as the Sharples turned out, were a viable and affordable alternative to the large scale formal portraits of Gilbert Stuart and Jonathan Trumbull. [6] Competition from other small portrait painters was stiff, and in looking for opportunities for commissions, the family became itinerant. They lived and worked in Philadelphia and New York City, and traveled through New England in a specially constructed carriage that carried the family, their collection, and their equipment. [7]

George Washington First President of the United States

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

When they very still young, the Sharples children began to draw, and Ellen began to personally train her daughter, Rolinda, in the art of painting and drawing. The children joined the family enterprise when they were still in their teens, Felix at the age of 17, James Jr. at the age of 15, and Rolinda at the age of 13. [7]

Return to England, 1801-1809

In 1801, the family returned to Bath because of their fears of the Franco-American war. Much of the information that is known about the family during this period comes from Ellen Sharples' diaries and letters, [8] and in 1803, Ellen wrote about her daughter:

Drawing, reading and instructing my dear Rolinda continues greatly to interest me, as they have done for many years....Mr. S. delights to instruct her in arithmetic and natural philosophy...I attend to her reading, writing, drawing, geography, French, etc.

During this interim period, Ellen also exhibited her miniatures at the Royal Academy of Arts.

America, 1809-1811

In 1806, the family had plans to return to America, but their ship was damaged in a storm and they had to return to port. Felix and James Jr. were given permission to return at this time, and James, Ellen, and Rolinda joined them three years later. During their second stay in America, they lived in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, continuing their portrait commissions. James Sharples became ill in 1810, and in the winter of 1811, he died. After settling the will, Ellen, Rolinda, and James Jr. returned to England, and Felix elected to remain in America, pursuing a career as a portrait artist. [9]

Bristol, England, 1811-1849

An 1816 chalk drawing of Charles Darwin at age six with his sister Catherine, by Ellen Sharples Charles and Catherine Darwin, 1816, by Sharples.jpg
An 1816 chalk drawing of Charles Darwin at age six with his sister Catherine, by Ellen Sharples

Ellen's itinerant life was over after her husband's death, and she settled permanently in Clifton, where she, James Jr. and Rolinda rented an apartment. The three members of the family concentrated on establishing a portrait practice. Rolinda's career took on a different and more ambitious direction, for she began to paint large portraits and complicated group scenes in oils. James, Jr., who lived a more independent life from his mother and sister, continued to paint portraits. Ellen's diary references to Felix end in 1823, and she made no mention that her children ever married. The family was successful, but both her children predeceased her. Rolinda died of breast cancer in 1838, and James Jr. died of tuberculosis in 1839. Of her loss, Ellen wrote to her friend, Miss Sarjeant:

that in my recent losses, my feelings must have been agonizing; for you knew how uniformly exemplary were the affectionate kindness of my dear highly gifted son & daughter to their mother, how devoted she was, placing all her happiness in them.... [10]

She was near 72 years of age when she wrote those words. When Ellen died in 1849 she left a substantial estate of £4,000 to the Bristol Academy for the Promotion of Fine Arts which was instrumental in financing Bristol's first art gallery, now the Royal West of England Academy. She had helped found the Academy several years earlier with a gift of £2,000. [11]

Personal papers

Letters, legal papers, bank and account books relating to James and Ellen Sharples and their family are held at Bristol Archives (Ref. 15395) (online catalogue). A number of paintings by Ellen and Rolinda Sharples can be seen on display at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and M Shed museum. [12]


Joseph Priestley, 1794, Ellen Sharples Priestley color.jpg
Joseph Priestley, 1794, Ellen Sharples

Ellen Sharples began her artistic career making copies of her husband's pastel portraits. Between 1794-1810, her copies followed a similar format of 9"x 7" portraits on gray or tanned paper. She taught herself how to make miniature watercolor copies on ivory, and between 1803-1810 she made miniature portraits either from copies or from life. [13] The income from Ellen's and her children's paintings made the family affluent, and she wrote in her diary:

Copies were frequently required; these I undertook, and was far successful, as to have as many commissions as I could execute; they were thought equal to the original, price the same: we lived in good style associating in the first society.

After 1810, Ellen no longer mentions her own work in her diaries, yet the family continued to practice as portrait painters in Bristol. Ellen's subjects included Joseph Priestley, Martha and George Washington, Benjamin Rush, John and Mrs. Bard, Eleanor Parke Custis, Alexander Hamilton, Sir Joseph Banks, and the Marquis de Lafayette. [14] Today, her works can be found in many museums in the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Independence National Historical Park Collection. She died in Wybunbury, Cheshire.

Ellen's daughter Rolinda Sharples became an oil painter of some renown. One of her largest pieces of work was The Trial of Colonel Brereton , painted in 1834, which is on display at M Shed in Bristol.

Royal Academy paintings

From the listing in a book of the Royal Academy exhibitors one can see that Ellen Sharples exhibited her works in 1807, when the family had moved back to England for a short time. She is listed as "Mrs. James (Ellen) Sharples, Miniature painter". [15]

See also

English women painters from the early 19th century who exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art

Related Research Articles

Ozias Humphry 18th/19th-century English painter

Ozias Humphry was a leading English painter of portrait miniatures, later oils and pastels, of the 18th century. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1791, and in 1792 he was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King.

James Peale American painter

James Peale was an American painter, best known for his miniature and still life paintings, and a younger brother of noted painter Charles Willson Peale.

Mary Baker was an English painter of portraits and portrait miniatures.

Sir William Charles Ross was an English portrait and portrait miniature painter of Scottish descent; early in his career, he was known for historical paintings. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1842.

Rebecca Solomon British artist

Rebecca Solomon was an English painter.

Margaret Sarah Carpenter Portrait painter from England

Margaret Sarah Carpenter, was an English painter. Noted in her time, she mostly painted portraits in the manner of Sir Thomas Lawrence. She was a close friend of Richard Parkes Bonington.

Jane Benham Hay British artist

Jane Benham was a prominent English painter and illustrator of the Victorian period. She was associated with two important artistic movements of the mid-19th century: the Pre-Raphaelite painters of Britain and the Macchiaioli of Italy.

Rosa Corder British artist

Rosa Frances Corder was a Victorian artist and artist's model. She was the lover of Charles Augustus Howell, who is alleged to have persuaded her to create forgeries of drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Harriet Gouldsmith was an English landscape painter and etcher.

Mary Harrison was an English flower and fruit painter, and illustrator. She became popularly called the "Rose and Primrose painter". She has also been known as Mary P. Harrison and Mary Rossiter Harrison.

Ann Mary Newton British artist

Ann Mary Newton, née Severn, was an English painter. She specialized in portraits of children and worked in crayon, chalk, pastel and watercolour. Newton studied in England under George Richmond and in Paris under Ary Scheffer. Her works were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art between 1852 and 1865.

Joanna Mary Boyce English painter of portraits, genre pictures, and occasionally landscapes

Joanna Mary Boyce, also known by her married name as Mrs. H.T. Wells, or as Joanna Mary Wells, was an English painter of portraits, genre pictures, and occasionally landscapes. She was the sister of Pre-Raphaelite watercolourist George Price Boyce, and was herself associated with the Brotherhood.

Nathan Cooper Branwhite English artist from Bristol

Nathan Cooper Branwhite was an English miniature portrait painter, watercolourist and engraver who was a member of the Bristol School of artists. He was Bristol's leading miniature portrait painter in the 1820s.

Isabelle de Steiger painter, theosophist, occultist and writer

Isabelle de Steiger, née Lace, was an English painter, theosophist, occultist and writer. She became a member of several esoteric societies in London, and was a close friend and co-worker of Anna Kingsford.

Anna Mary Howitt British artist

Anna Mary Howitt was an English painter, writer and feminist. Her artistic activity ceased in 1857 after she suffered a mental breakdown. She destroyed her paintings, resumed her writing, and began spirit paintings.

Ann Charlotte Bartholomew (1800–1862), was an English flower and miniature painter, and author.

Lady Maria Bell was an English amateur painter.

Martha Darley Mutrie English painter

Martha Darley Mutrie was an English painter. Her paintings consisted mostly of fruit and flowers. She grew up in Manchester, England, and studied at the Manchester School of Design. Mutrie's works were shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Manchester Institution and other national and international exhibitions. Her works are among the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum.


  1. Brian Stewart & Mervyn Cutten (1997). The Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN   1 85149 173 2.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2009-08-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Metz, Kathryn (Spring–Summer 1995). "Ellen and Rolinda Sharples: Mother and Daughter Painters". Woman's Art Journal. 16 (1): 3. doi:10.2307/1358624.
  4. Waggoner, Diane. "The Sharples Family and Legal Papers" (PDF).
  5. Waggoner, p. 6
  6. Metz p. 3
  7. 1 2 Metz, p. 3
  8. Waggoner, Diane. "Guides" (PDF). microform.co.uk. p. 11.
  9. Metz, p. 4
  10. Waggoner, p. 23
  11. Waggoner, p. 25
  12. "Art UK, Ellen Sharples" . Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  13. Mtz p. 4
  14. "National Portrait Gallery - Person - Ellen Sharples". npg.org.uk.
  15. "The Royal Academy of the Arts: Exhibitors". archive.org. p. 93.

Further reading