'A sure and convenient Machine for drawing Silhouettes'
by Thomas Holloway
Silhouette cutting in Britain first enjoyed popularity at court and in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy. The sudden craze for making 'shadow profiles' coincided with the neo-classical revival that gripped Britain from the 1750s onwards.
Silhouettes could claim their origins in the earliest record of portrait production in ancient Greece while their flat, linear style appealed to the pared down neo-classical aesthetic.
The phenomenal success of the work of the Swiss pastor Johann Casper Lavater (1741-1801) also contributed to the popularity of the art. Lavater linked silhouettes to the 'science' of physiognomy, which aimed to discern a person's character from their facial features. His Essays on Physiognomy, Designed to Promote the Knowledge and Love of Mankind were first published in Germany in 1772 and translated into English and French in the 1780s. They promoted the simple contours of a silhouette as the best means of 'reading' a face: What can be less the image of a living man than a shade? Yet how full of speech! Little gold, but the purest.
Top: Composite image, from left to right:
- John Henry Alexander; Mr Weekes; John Francis Theodon; John Lloyd , 1832
- Mrs Robert Beveridge; Anne Beveridge; Andrew Beveridge; Hugh Beveridge; Robert Beveridge, 1832
- Jane Anderson; Esther Ainslie; Helena Anderson; Mrs Arkley; Charles Atherton, circa 1830
- Sarah Siddons; Tyrone Power; Tyrone Power, 1832
4 silhouettes by Augustin Edouart (1789-1861)