JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 3, Article 1 (pp. 203 to 223)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 3, Article 1 (pp. 203 to 223)

PAPER PROFILES: AMERICAN PORTRAIT SILHOUETTES

PENLEY KNIPE



4 SILHOUETTE PRESENTATION

Historically, silhouettes were often kept in albums or scrapbooks. According to Verplanck (1996), by 1700 the practice of keeping albums was common, and it continued into the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Albums started as autograph books that could contain pasted or pinned-in silhouettes and evolved into scrapbooks full of clippings, cuttings, and the occasional silhouette. In the United States, Verplanck found album compilation to be particularly popular among the Quakers. At the time silhouettes were popular, it was certainly possible to acquire blank books and albums commercially. Silhouettists themselves kept albums. As mentioned, Edouart kept copies of his cutouts in albums, though he strongly advised his patrons to frame their silhouettes. He wrote:

The beauty of those Likenesses consists in preserving the dead black, of which the paper is composed, and scratches, rubs, or marks of fingers … take away a great deal. … I advise those who wish to preserve the Likenesses to have them framed as soon as possible (to avoid marring) for those who put them in Scrap-Books, I must forewarn them, it is a practice injurious to cuttings inasmuch as they are too liable to be handled and even destroyed by the rubbing of fingers (Edouart 1835, 13–14).

Not all silhouettes ended up pinned into scrap-books. Because of their inexpensive nature and relative ease of acquisition, and because a sitter often acquired more than one portrait at a time, silhouettes could be given to someone as a memento. For this purpose, silhouettes were kept loose and later housed by the recipient in some fashion. Often loose silhouettes were slipped into the family Bible or a favorite book.

As Edouart advised, many silhouettes were framed and hung on the wall. It was possible to purchase a frame along with the silhouette at the time of the sitting; this option was often featured in a cutter's advertisement. At one end of the spectrum were simple frames such as a rectangular stained wood frame with a simple channel molding or a flat face. Edouart had a framer who used flat maple frames with a gold fillet (Oliver 1977). Embossed brass over wood frames, oval in shape, were mass-produced for silhouettes and miniatures (Adair 1983). A more expensive option might be a wooden frame with a black Japanned finish, gold fillet, oval-shaped domed glass, and decorative brass hanger in a leaf design. Many of the more expensive silhouette types were done by artists who also painted miniatures, so the frames are often the same type as seen on miniatures. Clients could also choose an églomisé, or reverse glass, mat for fancier painted silhouettes. Gilded compo frames with beading were also available. According to an English source on collecting silhouettes, pearwood veneer and papier-mâché frames were commonly used on more elaborate silhouettes (McSwiggan 1997).

Both William Henry Brown and Edouart mounted many of their cutout silhouettes onto lithographed backgrounds. The scenes were of domestic, work, or scenic outdoor spaces. In 1846, Brown published Portrait Gallery of Distinguished American Citizens, which included 26 of the most important of his sitters, including the politicians Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson. E. B. and E. C. Kellogg of Hartford, Connecticut, well-established lithographers who often printed the backgrounds for Brown's cut silhouettes, made lithographs of the silhouettes for this book. Edouart employed another well-known set of lithographers, Unkles and Klason, to produce his backgrounds. Edouart also hand-drew some of his mounts in styles similar to the lithographs. Other artists such as Hubard and Jarvis Hanks (ca. 1800–after 1852) mounted their cutouts to plain cards and then connected the sitters firmly to the earth with a wash of watercolor to suggest the ground and even a shadow. Other types of mounts encountered were embossed or decoratively painted.

Fancier-style silhouetted images were also abundant in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are wonderful silhouettes sculpted in wax or painted on ivory, plaster, or glass. Silhouettes were painted on ivory and housed in decorative miniature cases. These types of silhouettes were obviously much more labor-intensive and expensive than paper silhouettes. Painted silhouettes decorated jewelry, such as brooches and rings, and snuff boxes. Silhouettes were also found on dishware and on mourning cards.


Copyright © 2002 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works