Museum quality silhouettes
The type of art that you will find in museums or art galleries, can vary depending on the dialogue, subject matter and medium, but usually it has a human form attached to it. As a professional silhouette artist for over 35 years, I have realized that the term “silhouette” is broad-based. By definition, silhouette refers to the outside shape or contour of an object, usually black in the interior. The history of the beginnings of this style has been seen 32,000 years ago in primitive cave dwellings. Marching black figurative silhouettes are viewed on Grecian urns, and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic icons. Beautiful silhouettes can also be documented in Chinese embroidery patterns used in the brilliant unprecedented Tang dynasty. These exquisite paper cuttings, are still used today as treasured templates for special occasions, most normally, cut from Rice paper.
The original black profile renderings were hand-painted on a surface such as glass, ceramic, or porcelain. They would be made with lamp soot, from a machine called a pantograph, which had two pens affixed to each other. A person would trace the shadow off the wall, one pen would copy it, and the other, would reduce it. The first silhouette noted was cut from paper in 1699 by Elizabeth Pyburg for King William and Queen Mary. The skill of hand-cutting a real profile, from a fine profile portrait artist, was not mastered until around 1761 when Robert Hinchliffe of Sheffield cast steel to make scissors in London and became a manufacturer and purveyor of high-quality scissors. Around this time a professional paper portrait artist named Isabella Beetham made career from her genius-art ability to master the scissors profile. This has always been the most difficult silhouette art to master, as it is not from a shadow, or light. There is no “cheating” for the true silhouette artist. By accident, I discovered this art, after being a natural portrait and fine artist. The art talent was inherited, and this is true of all silhouette artists, their talents come from generations of artists, all great silhouette artists are also talented portrait artists.
From a collector’s point-of-view, the value of the silhouette art piece you acquire value, depends on the history associated with it or the dialogue that it may engage you in—such as Kara Walker’s large silhouettes depicting slavery, abuse, and negative thought. Other famous museum silhouettes are Charles Dickens’ character silhouettes depicting personality, and movement, or Edourt’s historic statesmen and Presidential silhouettes which show fashion, career, and personality. Edourt named the “shade” silhouette, after Etienne de Silhouette, a French minister of Finance who was known for cutting pensions, and for his love of the black profile cut- arts.
Most amusement park-style silhouette artists, do not render their talents further, than an attempt to recreate a person’s profile. This is a remarkable skill, but that treasure varies depending on the person creating this rare, lost art. The most skilled of these current silhouette artists, do many interior cut-outs, and can cut groupings; one face into another face. The artists that can only paste single silhouettes individually, not as a puzzle, have not fully mastered the art.
The solid black silhouettes are easier to master, yet are quite decorative, and may find a home in a stylish boutique. The internet photo- shopped silhouettes, do not take a talent to do, and will never find a home in an art gallery or museum, unless it is of a popular cult figure such as Lady Gaga, signed by her, or a President. These can be ordered by sites in colors of large scale, they are trendy and chic. They also are popular at weddings, on napkins, pendants mugs, gift-bags and center-pieces.
The prestigious Peggy McClard Gallery of antique, Victorian-style collectable silhouettes has honored me with the fabulous chance to repair precious, historic silhouettes hand-cut by Augustin Edourt, the most prolific American and European freehand silhouette artist. If you are interested in purchasing a collector’s piece, that would be an excellent place to begin your search, on e-bay, the site antiquesilhouettes, Richard Mole, or directly in antique shops in Europe, a heirloom, or keepsake, forever.