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The Silhouette - American Folk Art

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Antiques
The Silhouette - American Folk Art

A silhouette was a photograph of a person that simply showed the outline of the person, usually in profile and filled with solid shadow. It was named after "Etienne de Silhouette," a French finance controller general who lived from 1709 to 1767. He was a known cheapskate, and his name became synonymous with anything done or created on the cheap, such as silhouettes. He even decorated a new house totally (to save money) by cutting out miniature silhouettes from black paper.

The silhouette's popularity stemmed in part from the fact that it was inexpensive (far less than having a portrait painted, for example) and could be made quickly, but it was also a lovely kind of art in its own right.

There are many different forms of silhouettes, but the most frequent were made with scissors from black paper. They're also known as "paper cuttings," "shadows," or "shades" in the United Kingdom. After the black shape was completed, the paper was attached to a white (or at least lighter) backing card, and your finished likeness was revealed. The silhouette was also popular in America, where you could get one created on the street for a dime and in minutes in places like Philadelphia. They were similar in size to a miniature image, and once the daguerreotype was produced, the silhouette swiftly fell out of favour.

However, silhouettes were still popular in the late eighteenth century (Georgian England) and early nineteenth century (the Regency). They even supplanted miniature portraits in the courts of France and Germany. The miniatures were popular among nobles as diplomatic instruments and among anyone who could afford them as personal symbols, as I explain in another piece.

By comparison, the silhouette made portable likenesses of loved ones affordable to practically everyone, and it could even be utilised as wall art. All you needed was someone who could do it (a "profile portraitist") and a few pounds. With time, their appeal swung back to the wealthy, who, "commissioned silhouettes in jewellery and snuff boxes to be painted and encrusted with precious stones Royalty commissioned silhouetted porcelain dinner services. Albums by common folk featured silhouettes of relatives and friends."

Furthermore, creating silhouettes was a popular parlour game in which everyone could participate. The finished sculptures may not have been works of beauty, but the process of creating them was undoubtedly enjoyable. (In contrast, "Shadows" was a game in which participants created shadow-images on the walls primarily with their hands; nothing was drawn or taken away from the exercise except a few laughs.) According to the Concise Britannica, silhouettes were created "by drawing the outline projected by candlelight or lamplight," which is almost certainly how the typical person achieved it. "However, as photography rendered silhouettes practically obsolete, itinerant artists turned to them as a form of folk art."

Full-length silhouettes were cut by Auguste Edouart, a Frenchman. Master Hubard, an American boy silhouettist who cut profiles in 20 seconds, was another itinerant. Cassandra Austen, Jane's loving sister, is a great example of a silhouette. (To get my April ezine, which contains illustrations with this essay, click the link at the bottom.) Have you noticed the subtler detailing? This was accomplished due to the fact that one's "shade" may be lowered ("using a reduction equipment known as a pantograph") before being painted on plaster or glass with "soot, or lamp black." Hair, caps, ribbons, frills, and other vital accoutrements of the day would have been 'dragged' out with progressively more and more diluted pigment after the face had been painted black."

Jane Austen's self-portrait is another silhouette style (with yellow background, see sample in download). It is a great example of the art, albeit more simply produced than the first. According to one antiques website, the silhouette of the past would have been created in one of the four formats listed below:

-       Paper, card, vellum, ivory, silk, or porcelain;

-       On glass, painted backwards;

-       Hollows are cut with a machine or, in rare cases, by hand. The figure is sliced away from the paper in this procedure, producing a negative picture. After that, a contrasting hue of paper or fabric is used to back the paper outline.

-       Freehand cut with scissors or a sharp edge, then pasted to a contrasting (typically light-colored) background.

John Miers was a notable silhouette artist in England during the late 18th to the early 19th centuries (the artistic Regency, in other words) (1756-1821). John Field had gone before him. A machine was employed by JC Lavater, a German who dabbled in science, to create "scientific" silhouettes. (I assume "scientific" implies "correct" in this situation.)

To sell or buy antique paintings online visit : Folk Art Auction

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