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Paper cuttings originated in the 1700ís and is the modern precursor to the photograph.

A directory of silhouette and paper cutter artists around the world.
Past, Present, and Future?

Papercut-like images can be found among ancient Greek vase paintings.

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art quote news - new information regarding the website silhouette history

Historical Time Period
<1600 1700 1800 1900 2000>

Silhouettes are also known as paper cuttings and shadows. Long before photography was invented, our ancestors used to have portraits of themselves taken sideways. They were called silhouette portraits, and they were not taken with a camera, but were cut out of thin black paper, and stuck upon a white card. The word silhouette comes from the name of Monsieur Etienne de Silhouette, a French Minister of Finance in 1759.
 

Until a few years ago men might often have been seen in the streets of Boston and other big cities, who for a penny, would cut out a silhouette portrait of anyone who cared to stand before them for a few minutes. These portraits were about the size of a small photograph, and were often very good likenesses. Of course, these portraits were more or less accurate as side views of the face, according to the skill of the man who cut them out. If he had much artistic ability they were good likenesses; if not, they were sometimes very poor.
 

Silhouette PortraitBut in still earlier days, when silhouette portraits were fashionable and popular, they used to be done in a more scientific way. The person whose portrait was to be taken sat sideways before a screen, with a light on a table on the other side of him, and in this way a clear shadow was thrown upon the screen, which gave a perfect portrait if the light and sitter were arranged properly.


The eighteenth century is widely regarded as the renaissance of silhouettes. Little known though is that English silhouettes in those days were generally painted, not cut-out. A life-size cut-out was usually taken from the subject's shadow, which was used as an artist's cartoon. From this the finished silhouette was then made, using a reducing instrument known as a pantograph, or "stork's beak". This is why, to this day, artists talk of "taking" a silhouette, rather than drawing or cutting it. In much the same way that photographers "take" a photograph.
 

The skill of the best artists lay in the painting. This was done with soot, or lamp black, on plaster or glass. After painting the face dead black the hair, hats, ribbons, frills, and other essential accessories of the day, would have been "dragged" out, using a fine brush with progressively more and more diluted pigment.
 


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----- 1700 -----

1709-1767

France

Etienne Silhouette

17XX-17XX

United Kingdom

John Field


----- 1800 -----

1741-1801

Switzerland

Johanna Lavater

1756-1821

England

John Miers

1789-1861

France

Augustin Edouart

1805-1875

Denmark

Hans Anderson


----- 1900 -----

1860-1937

USA

Henry Sackett

1863-19XX

Germany

F Kaskeline

1891-1975

USA

Beatrix Sherman

1900-1961

USA

Joseph Budd-Jack

1914-1988

USA

Sister Dorcy

19XX-19XX

USA

Arnett Wiley

19XX-1977

Italy

Ugo Mochi

19XX-19XX

USA

Helen Fisher

19XX-19XX

USA

Henry Niles


----- 2000 -----

1950-2002

USA

Brian Flora

1953-2002

USA

David Wisniewski

 

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The reproductions of all materials displayed here are not to be duplicated for personal use, for distribution or for sale. All rights are reserved by the authors and violators of these rights will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.


This site is brought to you in cooperation with the Guild of American Papercutters (GAP).

Many thanks to Silhouette Portraits and Silhouettes of You for their support and inspiration.


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