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Silhouette Prints

The silhouette is a tradition that emerged in European art in the 18th and 19th centuries, and involves reproducing the outline of a sitter's face or bust. The tradition was started by Johann Caspar Lavater, a scientist interested in the study of physiognomy, or the idea that the face is a reflection of individual character traits.

Successful artists created finely detailed likenesses, often using cut paper and occasionally finishing them by hand. The black outline of the sitter would be mounted on paper of a contrasting background, and was an inexpensive alternative to the portrait miniature. The silhouettes were reproduced for books and post cards, drawing notoriety for the artists that specialized in this craft.

Artists created woodblock prints using the silhouette outlines as a guide for the purpose of creating book illustrations. In the 19th century, hand-colored prints were more expensive to create than silhouettes, and were often included as an alternative. The invention of the daguerreotype in the mid-19th century caused the silhouette to fall out of favor, as the new inexpensive method of portraiture took hold in Europe.

A contemporary example of silhouettes in art making are those by artist Kara Walker, who revived interest in paper cut silhouettes.


Quick Facts

  • Isabella Beetham was a pioneering female silhouette artist who mastered the technique of paper cutting and hand-detailing miniatures
  • John Miers practiced silhouette art in Great Britain in the late 18th century. Miers painted his silhouettes, often on ivory, and often took less than three minutes to produce an image
  • Austrian artist Otto Böhler specialized in creating silhouettes of German musicians, composers, and conductors, including the famous Bach and Mahler. His work was often reproduced for ads in newspapers

Recommended Items at Auction

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Pair of Silhouettes
Mar 01, 5:00 PM EST
Pair of Silhouettes
by Dovetail Auctions, LLC
Est: $5- $500
$51 Bid
Portrait Miniature Silhouette early 19th century Gentleman facing left inscribed
Mar 03, 10:00 AM PST
Portrait Miniature Silhouette early 19th century Gentleman facing left inscribed
by Global Auctions Company
Est: $200- $250
$1800 Bids
A Pair of Cut and Gouache Decorated Paper Silhouettes
Mar 15, 10:00 AM EDT
A Pair of Cut and Gouache Decorated Paper Silhouettes
by Hindman
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
A VICTORIAN OVAL FRAMED SILHOUETTE OF A MAN. 4ins x 3ins.
Mar 06, 10:30 AM GMT
A VICTORIAN OVAL FRAMED SILHOUETTE OF A MAN. 4ins x 3ins.
by John Nicholson's Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: £50- £60
£450 Bids
German Hand cut silhouette handgeschnittene / Scherenschnitte , signed
Mar 03, 10:00 AM PST
German Hand cut silhouette handgeschnittene / Scherenschnitte , signed
by Global Auctions Company
Est: $200- $300
$1500 Bids
2 diverse lijstjes waaronder mahonie met ovaal sil…
Feb 29, 7:00 PM CET
2 diverse lijstjes waaronder mahonie met ovaal sil…
by Veilinghuis Van Spengen
Est: €40- €60
€200 Bids
A pair of Georgian silhouettes
Mar 08, 10:00 AM GMT
A pair of Georgian silhouettes
by Martel Maides
Est: £70- £100
£700 Bids
English School (19th century), a silhouette, of a lady wearing a lace cap, bust length, watercolour, arched mount, 7cm x 5.5cm
Feb 29, 10:00 AM GMT
English School (19th century), a silhouette, of a lady wearing a lace cap, bust length, watercolour, arched mount, 7cm x 5.5cm
by Bamfords Auctioneers and Valuers Ltd
Est: £40- £60
£400 Bids
Two English White Paste Silhouette Bust Portraits of a Lady and a Gentleman
Mar 15, 10:00 AM EDT
Two English White Paste Silhouette Bust Portraits of a Lady and a Gentleman
by Hindman
Est: $400- $600
$2000 Bids
Lot consisting of three silhouette portraits, England, 19th century
Mar 05, 5:00 PM CET
Lot consisting of three silhouette portraits, England, 19th century
by Ansorena
Est: €90- €120
€600 Bids
Auguste Edouart (French, 1789-1861)
Mar 15, 10:00 AM EDT
Auguste Edouart (French, 1789-1861)
by Hindman
Est: $400- $600
$2000 Bids
Four Silhouette Portraits
Mar 15, 10:00 AM EDT
Four Silhouette Portraits
by Hindman
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
Four Silhouettes
Mar 01, 5:00 PM EST
Four Silhouettes
by Dovetail Auctions, LLC
Est: $5- $500
$50 Bids
Two English White Paste Silhouette Bust Portraits
Mar 15, 10:00 AM EDT
Two English White Paste Silhouette Bust Portraits
by Hindman
Est: $500- $700
$2500 Bids
Antique Silhouettes
Mar 01, 5:00 PM EST
Antique Silhouettes
by Dovetail Auctions, LLC
Est: $5- $500
$50 Bids
American School, 19th Century
Mar 14, 10:00 AM EDT
American School, 19th Century
by Hindman
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Silhouette Prints


Hindman

Hindman

Bamfords Auctioneers and Valuers Ltd

Bamfords Auctioneers and Valuers Ltd