Figure 1.--This beautiful silhouette portrait is signed by E.E. Linder. The boy is named as "Master Jack". Lovely attention to detil shows the boy's sailor suit so popular for boys. This particular silhouette shows the boy's wide-brimmed sailor hat and streamers. This silhouette is undated, but HBC estimates that it made about 1900.
We have noted numerous silhouttes of children in both the 19th and 20th centuries. The silhouette as an art form was especially admired in the late 18th century. Silhouette were done of powerful monarchs and great men. There were great artists who did masterful silhouettes. As the art form could be practiced by individuals of modest talent and virtually no training, it was also a popular form of folk art even reaching thevAmerican frontier. By the late 19th century, however, the silhouette was morelikely to be a family portraits of the children. While still popular in the early 20th century, they are now rarely done. We have not selected many of these silhouttes because they mostly focus on the child's face and not the clothing. A few do, hoever, provide interestig clothing details. Some also have details on hair styles.
The silhouette may be as old as mankind. Silhouttes have been found on stone age cave painting. The hand appears to have been the first subject. Silhouettes were known in classical antiquity. Important silhouettes have been found in Mesopotania. They were also made by Greeks and Etruscans. Some art historians have noted silhouettes in the late 16th century. The high-point of the silhoutte a an art form, however, was the 18th and early 19th century. Johanna Casper Lavater's book, Essays on Physiognomy in the 1770s is thought to have considerable influence on silhoutte cutting. Another reason silhouettes became so popular in the 18th century was that paper became more available and less expensive. Silhouettes became extremelly fashionable in the 18th century. Silhouettes were done of many famous people, including royalty. The admirers of silhouettes included Russia's Empress Catherine the Great and England's King George III. Perhaps the most famous American silhoette is one of George Washington done by his granddaughter Nelly Parke Custis at Mount Vernon. Some argued that a painted silhouettes often provided better insight into character than complicated portraits. The silhouette is named after an actual person. He was the French Minister of Finance, Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767). He cut profilmes from black paper as hobby.
A silhouette is an object's outline formed by a source of light. Most are profiles of the side of the head done in black. Some silhouettes are much more complicated, including full length figures or even multiple person cmpositions. The basic silhouette, however, is the head seen in progile. The first modern European silhouettes appear to be cut from black paper. The most praised silouttes from the late 18th and early 20th centuries ere actually painted. The subject would pose in front of a glass scren which would be illuminated with a candel lamp. The atist then drew the shadow life-size on oiled paper. Only later was the oulined blacked in. Sometimes the outline was cut out and backed with black material, aprocess called "hollow cutting". As an art form, silhouettes had many advantages, especially in 18th century before the development of photography. Competent artists were very rare and expensive. A silhouettist could produce a reasonable product with modest ability and without sophisticated training. Silhouettes could be made quickly and at a modest price.
The art of the silhouette was revolutionized in 1775 when a Mrs.
Samuel Harrington invented the pantograph. This was a mechanical device which could be used tor enlarging or reducing a drawing. An artist could use the device to copy one of his silhouettes, normally made life size. Artists becan offering silhouettes in minatures, including extrodinarily small sizes. These small silhouettes were extremely popular because they could be used in jewelry such as lockets. A popular form of silhouette painting was "verre eglomise" which involved painting on glass. Both gold and silver foils were also used.
While silhouettes were done in the early 19th century, they never exceeded the popularity of the late 18th century. The silhouette by the late 19th century was no longer a high art from. It was very popular with Victorian and Eduardian parents to have silhouette done of their childern. Silhouttes in the late 19th century were not limited to children, but they were the most popular subjects. They were also done in the 20th century, especially the early 20th century. A HBC reader recalls them in the 1930s. I'm not precisely sure where they were done, but now that some down town department stores had a place where they were done. It was often located next to the photographic department. My mom had one done of me, but sadly I do not recall the experience. The silhouette is now little seen, perhaps a casualty of the camera and video camera. Today the few remaining silhouettists might be found at craft fairs and a variety of special events.
One of the most respected greatest Silhouettist was John Miers (1758-1821). Another great silhouettist was Isabella Beetham (fl.1750). A 19th century silhouettist, French refugee Augustin Amant Constant Fidele Edouart (1789- 1861), achieved considerable prominance, producing an incredible number of silhouettes.
This beautiful silhouette portrait is signed by E.E. Linder. The boy is named as "Master Jack". Lovely attention to detil shows the boy's sailor suit so popular for boys. This particular silhouette shows the boy's wide-brimmed sailor hat and streamers. It is embossed to get "relief" to the hair. This silhouette is undated, but HBC estimates that it made about 1900.
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