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 Antique Identified Kentucky Silhouettes in Frame
Oct 24, 6:00 PM EDT
Pair of Antique Identified Kentucky Silhouettes in Frame
by Caswell Prewitt Realty, INC
Est: $0- $0
$1606 Bids
Martha Honeywell Silhouette
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
Martha Honeywell Silhouette
by Caza Sikes
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
A PRIMITIVE FOLK ART NEEDLEWORK HOMESTEAD SCENE
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CDT
A PRIMITIVE FOLK ART NEEDLEWORK HOMESTEAD SCENE
by Dirk Soulis Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$1000 Bids
A 19TH C. AMERICAN SILHOUETTE IN FOLK ART FRAME
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CDT
A 19TH C. AMERICAN SILHOUETTE IN FOLK ART FRAME
by Dirk Soulis Auctions
Est: $300- $400
$1500 Bids
THREE FOLK ART KEYSTONE COP WHIRLIGIGS
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CDT
THREE FOLK ART KEYSTONE COP WHIRLIGIGS
by Dirk Soulis Auctions
Est: $150- $300
$700 Bids
FRANCISCO BORES - SILHOUETTE - ORIGINAL VERVE LITHOGRAPH - 1937
Oct 24, 1:30 PM CDT
FRANCISCO BORES - SILHOUETTE - ORIGINAL VERVE LITHOGRAPH - 1937
by Beowulf Art and Books
Est: $100- $110
$500 Bids
Seestück mit Burg an der Küste.
Oct 30, 9:00 AM CEST
Seestück mit Burg an der Küste.
by Auktionshaus Wendl
Est: €0- €0
€200 Bids
WILLEMSTAD -- OLDENBORGH, P. v. De belegering & verdediging v.d. Willemstad in maart 1793
Nov 17, 1:30 PM CET
WILLEMSTAD -- OLDENBORGH, P. v. De belegering & verdediging v.d. Willemstad in maart 1793
by Burgersdijk & Niermans
Est: €400- €500
€4000 Bids
American Painted Silhouette of a Lady
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
American Painted Silhouette of a Lady
by Caza Sikes
Est: $100- $200
$500 Bids
Three 20th Century Silhouettes
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
Three 20th Century Silhouettes
by Caza Sikes
Est: $50- $75
$200 Bids
VERNON, DAI (DAVID FREDERICK WINGFIELD VERNER). SILHOUETTE ...
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CDT
VERNON, DAI (DAVID FREDERICK WINGFIELD VERNER). SILHOUETTE ...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $400- $800
$2000 Bids
Pair Silhouettes Boy & Girl in Gilt Frames 19th Century
Oct 17, 10:00 AM PDT
Pair Silhouettes Boy & Girl in Gilt Frames 19th Century
by Taylor & Harris
Est: $400- $500
$3000 Bids
A VICTORIAN FRAMED AND GLAZED SILHOUETTE OF A GENTLEMAN, with his dog. 10ins x6.5ins
Oct 21, 10:30 AM BST
A VICTORIAN FRAMED AND GLAZED SILHOUETTE OF A GENTLEMAN, with his dog. 10ins x6.5ins
by John Nicholsons Fine Art Auctioneer & Valuer
Est: £80- £100
£700 Bids
ABRAHAM LINCOLN SILHOUETTES & MORE
Oct 30, 10:00 AM EDT
ABRAHAM LINCOLN SILHOUETTES & MORE
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $100- $150
$300 Bids
19th C. Profile Silhouette of a Gentleman
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
19th C. Profile Silhouette of a Gentleman
by Caza Sikes
Est: $50- $100
$200 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Silhouette Prints


Auktionshaus Plückbaum

Auktionshaus Plückbaum

Adam's

Adam's

Caza Sikes

Caza Sikes

Dirk Soulis Auctions

Dirk Soulis Auctions