Silhouettes: An Illustrated Inventory

The American Antiquarian Society collection of portraits contains 209 silhouettes. Silhouettes are profile portraits made of paper that became popular in the mid-eighteenth century in Europe. Generally the profile of the sitter is cut out of white paper and the resulting shape is then mounted on glossy black paper or black fabric. These portraits became very popular in the United States during the early nineteenth century. Itinerant silhouette cutters traveled up and down the eastern seaboard advertising in American newspapers and making likenesses of a wide variety of citizens from all walks of life. Within the collection are traditional silhouette cuttings on black paper, hollow-cut silhouettes with black paper or fabric underneath, and painted silhouettes. Some have been partially cut, allowing for ink and watercolor detailing to be added.

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