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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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Six Framed Early Silhouettes
Jun 22, 6:30 PM EDT
Six Framed Early Silhouettes
by Gary R. Wallace Auctioneers Inc.
Est: $0- $0
$251 Bid
Two Early Small Watercolors & Two Silhouettes
Jun 22, 6:30 PM EDT
Two Early Small Watercolors & Two Silhouettes
by Gary R. Wallace Auctioneers Inc.
Est: $0- $0
$251 Bid
Silhouette Portrait Young Man (19th Century) American Federal Period
May 30, 5:00 PM EDT
Silhouette Portrait Young Man (19th Century) American Federal Period
by Cutler Bay Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$501 Bid
Silhouette Deuerling, Corps Bavaria Würzburg 1845
May 25, 10:00 AM CEST
Silhouette Deuerling, Corps Bavaria Würzburg 1845
by Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg
Est: €0- €0
€1200 Bids
Silhouette Carl Pramböck, Corps Bavaria Munich 1848
May 25, 10:00 AM CEST
Silhouette Carl Pramböck, Corps Bavaria Munich 1848
by Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg
Est: €0- €0
€1200 Bids
Silhouette Moers, Corps Franconia Munich 1846
May 25, 10:00 AM CEST
Silhouette Moers, Corps Franconia Munich 1846
by Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg
Est: €0- €0
€1200 Bids
Silhouette Jonquières, Corps Hannovera Göttingen 1840
May 25, 10:00 AM CEST
Silhouette Jonquières, Corps Hannovera Göttingen 1840
by Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg
Est: €0- €0
€1500 Bids
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ADOLF FROHNER* (Groszinzersdorf 1934 - 2007 Vienna)
May 28, 3:00 PM CEST
ADOLF FROHNER* (Groszinzersdorf 1934 - 2007 Vienna)
by Widder Auctions
Est: €150- €300
€1500 Bids
Milo D'Arza (1874-1942)
May 29, 7:00 PM CEST
Milo D'Arza (1874-1942)
by Vendu Rotterdam
Est: €100- €200
€800 Bids
19th Century Silhouettes
May 31, 12:00 PM EDT
19th Century Silhouettes
by Cottone Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
Cribbage Board with Silhouette of Lady
Jun 06, 10:00 AM EDT
Cribbage Board with Silhouette of Lady
by New England Auctions
Est: $150- $250
$250 Bids
19th Century Silhouette
May 31, 12:00 PM EDT
19th Century Silhouette
by Cottone Auctions
Est: $150- $250
$700 Bids
19th Century Silhouette
May 31, 12:00 PM EDT
19th Century Silhouette
by Cottone Auctions
Est: $100- $200
$500 Bids
SILHOUETTE FAMILY RECORD SAMUEL & ANNA MUDGE LYNN, 1803 (18 1/2" X 12 1/2")
Jun 02, 10:30 AM EDT
SILHOUETTE FAMILY RECORD SAMUEL & ANNA MUDGE LYNN, 1803 (18 1/2" X 12 1/2")
by Carlsen Gallery, Inc.
Est: $500- $1,000
$2500 Bids
A pair of Georgian silhouettes
May 24, 10:00 AM BST
A pair of Georgian silhouettes
by Martel Maides
Est: £40- £70
£300 Bids
c. 1820, President George Washington Bust Silhouette in a Period Oval Frame
Jun 08, 12:00 PM EDT
c. 1820, President George Washington Bust Silhouette in a Period Oval Frame
by Early American History Auctions
Est: $800- $1,000
$5000 Bids
c. 1830, Pen and Ink Silhouette of a Young Woman, Period Framed
Jun 08, 12:00 PM EDT
c. 1830, Pen and Ink Silhouette of a Young Woman, Period Framed
by Early American History Auctions
Est: $180- $240
$1000 Bids
Antique Silhouette
May 28, 4:00 PM CDT
Antique Silhouette
by McCurley Auction Company
Est: $0- $0
$30 Bids
Pair of large Georgian silhouettes, lady and gent, black lacquer frames, c. 1825
Jun 01, 9:30 AM AEST
Pair of large Georgian silhouettes, lady and gent, black lacquer frames, c. 1825
by Moorabool Auctions
Est: AUD400- AUD500
AUD3500 Bids
Michael Jung, WINGED SILHOUETTE, acrylic / oil paint on wooden block, 6.5 x 5.25
Jun 04, 6:00 PM EDT
Michael Jung, WINGED SILHOUETTE, acrylic / oil paint on wooden block, 6.5 x 5.25
by Apple Tree Auction Center
Est: $0- $0
$50 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Silhouette Prints


Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg

Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg

Cottone Auctions

Cottone Auctions

Early American History Auctions

Early American History Auctions