Premier Silhouette Artists Cindi Rose; History of
Oh so trendy, are silhouettes today, and yesterday. After the scissors were invented in the 1700’s, silhouette cutting reached a new dimension. The camera was not around, and the only way the wealthy could capture their appearance
was from a painted portrait. This was done by sittings, usually taking over a week, often a month! One intelligent portrait artist figured out, in less time, they could hand-cut the profile from paper, and do around 50 or so people per day, through print
advertising. This would generate more revenue, than the handsome fee from one huge royal portrait sitting. Silhouettes soon became the rage during 1750’s to around 1870, especially due to J. L. Lavatar’s book on physiognomy; the study of the facial features compared to personality. At one point silhouettes were called “shades, paper profile cuts, or papyrus cut arts” Silhouette artists were in their hay-day. Still, the authentic ones were hard to find. A machine was invented called a Physiotrace, and it traced a shadow off the wall, and reduced it to miniature. It only shot out the outside of the silhouette called the hollow-cut (the part most real silhouette artists throw away), and that would be mounted on black velvet, or fabric. It was Augustin Edouart, who was shocked at these “impostor” silhouettes, and brought the real hand-cut from sight silhouettes back in style, mostly by being the world’s most prolific silhouette artist, and America’s premier silhouette artist. He renamed the art, silhouette, after Etienne de Silhouette, a former French minister of finance, who loved shades (silhouette profile cuts). Mr. Silhouette was not popular for his ways of cutting the budget. The term silhouette was not a nice term. People would wear all black, to show their sorrow at the frugal style Etienne was proposing. They would dress, “A la silhouette”, very New York, I should say! But, Augustin brought elegance to the word silhouette, and captured the style and wardrobe of President’s and leading business men in England and America. Today, the best silhouette artists capture personality, style, and soul. They dig deeper than a photo or photoshop shadow would, they talk to you. A real silhouette, is not what the school teachers traced off the walls. It is done by a true artist, who sees shape, form, proportion.
When the camera was invented in around 1870, sort-of from the physiotrace machine, silhouette artists lost their popularity, for the “modern age.”
Portraits in oils were expensive in the 1700’s, and hand-cut silhouettes were not. Some artists, found that they only could paint the silhouette and used ceramic and glass to do this on. They still charged a little less than the full-color portraits, as they only used the color black. In those days, black was made from lamp soot, or crushing all the things in nature they could find, and mixing it up with linseed (flax seed) oil. These valuable items are rare to find, but the Peggy McClard Gallery, often gets them in. I purchased the most gorgeous rose gold pendant with a hand-painted silhouette in it from 1825, Peggy said it used to be on a bracelet. She also has Edourt’s worth $30,000!
The hand-painted silhouettes often have details drawn into them, like a line drawing, with a white or gold-leafed feather pen. Some even had fabric pasted, and bits of human hair!
The mystery of the question, is why has it always been difficult to find real silhouette artists? I majored in Fine Arts at University of Texas, and was a practicing silhouette artist, since I was a teen. I tried to teach the art to other
great art majors, and found that the art of hand-cutting a real, authentic silhouette without a shadow or light or pencil drawing first, is not teachable. There is a fabulous book, Silhouettes Rediscovering The Lost Art, that attempts in step-by-step form to teach this art. However, when you read Kathryn Flocken’s bio, you see she has a degree in fine arts, and is a portrait artist. I interviewed her, and she said with the 10,000 books she has sold, she has only heard of a few people who picked up the art with great talent and skill. Those few were wonderful portrait artists, and were from lines of incredible artists. I still recommend this book, to all who want to view inside the mind of a real accomplished silhouette artist.
Then, I have seen that many silhouette artists claim they are from generations of silhouette artists. That means that everyone in their family must be art-gifted. Sort-of the apple does not fall far from the tree theory. The real question is why does the art of silhouette cutting by hand still fascinate the artist who can do this, and those that watch the artist do this. The other silhouette artists I have met in the over 35 years of cutting silhouettes are just “in love” with doing silhouettes. The scissors is their window into the world. Many travel from city to city, and live in nature, some do other arts, such as music, culinary skills, or carpentry. I love doing silhouettes at weddings, I feel it blesses the bride and groom and all their guests.
True silhouette artists use only scissors, and thin, black paper. They look and cut. If they are not talented, all get a generic face, the best silhouette artists capture your face, your style, and add their style. I have enclosed some of my silhouettes on this blog, and you can look at my website; silhouettesbycindi.com or my friend’s website; Paperportraits.com and see what details a fine silhouette artist can achieve. When you purchase a silhouette, make sure it was not a photocopy, computer scanned, or clumsy wall-traced cousin to this art. View the artist’s details—are their cut-outs inside the work, do they vary the bust-line, do they understand the difference in hair-styles, do they make serious people look serious, and wild individuals look free? The best silhouette artists capture face, profile, spirit, dress, style, and leave you feeling good about yourself. They give you your shadow. You are Peter Pan, and you do not have to “grow-up”. You have your shadow, forever as a heirloom. A fabulous silhouette will last forever, and be a timeless treasure.