Before the camera, an inexpensive portrait of a loved one would have been created by a silhouette artist. A pair of scissors, paper and the artist’s eye could create a likeness in very little time compared to sitting for a formal, painted portrait.
The art form was named after a mid-18th century French finance minister, Etienne de Silhouette. Known not only for creating such silhouettes himself, but for his overall miserly penchant, Etienne de Silhouette’s name became synonymous with the practice. From about 1790 to 1840 the Silhouette was a widespread form of portraiture in America declining sharply with the invention of the camera.
It has enjoyed a resurgence from time to time. I remember vividly sitting for one at an art fair when I was about 7 or 8 years old in the 1970s and I’m sure many of us or our parents have a Silhouette or two hanging on the wall or tucked away in drawer.
We framed this client’s silhouette in its original frame giving it an enhanced presence and importance while providing added protect for the delicate paper cutout.