LiveAuctionTalk.com Highlights Silhouette Sales in its Weekly Free Article Rosemary McKittrick’s column covers the gamut in art, antique and collectible sales. Visit her site and sign up for a free weekly subscription. Photo courtesy of Garth's.
News-Antique.com - Apr 16,2007 - April 16, 2007--Louis XV of France had a minister of finance, Etienne de Silhouette, who was a renowned cheapskate. His name was linked to just about everything done on a shoestring.
In his spare time, the minister enjoyed cutting out people’s profiles from black paper. When these inexpensive paper cutout profiles became popular in France, they were naturally called silhouettes.
The good news is--silhouettes as an art form outgrew their namesake to become desirable collectibles in their own right.
Through shadow and line silhouettes become art much like the shadow drawings of game and people on prehistoric cave walls. Before photography, silhouettes were the snapshots of their time period.
These black-and-white sideways portraits were so common in the United States in the 18th and 19th century professional artists set up silhouette museums. They also traveled from city to city doing profiles.
Some artists used machines which automatically traced a sitter’s profile. A person sat in a candle-and-chair apparatus which cast a shadow on a piece of parchment hanging beside them.
The shadow was traced almost exactly. Then the tracing was reduced in size with the help of a draftsman’s tool which made copies of the original.
Much like a photographer today, people who never had time to sit for a painting found time to sit for a profilist. When photography came along, the popularity of these shadow pictures naturally declined.
The best silhouette artists show skill and delicacy in their profiles. Much of their work is charming and naïve, reminiscent of a world long gone. From a collecting standpoint, machine-made silhouettes usually lack the grace of handmade silhouettes. They’re generally less valuable too.
On Jan. 5 & 6, 2007, Garth’s in Delaware, Ohio, featured a selection of silhouettes in its Early American Antiques & Decorative arts auction.
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