Silhouettes, or as they were also called in the 18th century “profiles” or “shades” were pictures depicting persons, portraits, scenes or objects just by showing their outlines in one, mostly black color.
Silhouettes could be drawn or cut out of paper. Silhouettes made of paper were also called papercuttings. The art of papercuttings came to Europe from China and Persia in the 17th century and became very popular in the 18th century. There were several methods on how papercuttings were made:
Special paper cutting artists would cut the object or silhouette of a person’s head by looking at the object without prior tracing or drawing required. If no artist was around, a portrait could have been created by tracing a shadow of a person’s face that was illuminated by a light, e.g. a candle. It was so popular that a special chair for such a past-time was invented in 1778 that had a frame attached to one side of the chair. A somewhat translucent paper would have been attached to that frame. The light created a shadow of the head of the person sitting in the chair onto the translucent paper. Another person sitting on the other side of the paper could trace the shape of the head. This traced portrait could then be transformed into a paper cutting.
The Hyland House Museum’s collection includes a silhouette from 1842 created by Auguste Edouart, the most famous silhouette artist of the 19th century. Click HERE to look at this object of interest on our website. Make sure to recognize it when you visit the Hyland House next time.
Click on the link below for instructions on how to make a papercutting portrait at home using modern photography.
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