BURIED IN MY COLLECTION are a number of silhouettes by Henry Harrison (or Henri, as he called himself when working in France).
They date from 1906 to 1910 and show me that he worked in Roubaix, France; Brussels, Belgium and in Scheveningen, Holland. Harrison was an itinerant artist and quite possibly worked in other parts of northern Europe too.
Like many silhouettists of his generation its hard to find more. Chat GPT said it thought he was born in England (he certainly has an English-sounding name) but didn’t tell me how it knew that, or provide dates of his birth or death. I’ve no idea if Harrison ever cut a silhouette in England!
Sadly, it’s a common story. I’ve collected work by a number of silhouettists who were cutting portraits in the 1900s and 1910s, but who seem to vanish after the First World War. It could be that they found another career and simply gave up cutting silhouettes. But, as artists from this period were predominantly young men, it’s hard not to speculate that they were called up to fight and did not survive the war.
For this reason it came as a pleasant surprise when I received an enquiry to cut silhouettes at the 100th anniversary party of the Liseberg resort in Gotenberg, Sweden this month. The client was planning a day of activities culminating in a gala dinner for all employees (some 500 of them) and was keen to book a silhouette artist for the occasion. The reason, as he explained to me, was that when the park opened in 1923 there was a silhouette artist called Henry Harrison working there.
I was happy to learn that Harrison not only survived the war, but had continued to make silhouettes long after it. Apparently there was a silhouettist working at the park right up until the 1950s or early 60s.
After some discussion, the client booked both Michael Herbert and I to attend the event. I had advised him that with 500 guests he should consider booking at least two artists. I took with me my small collection of Henry Harrison silhouettes to show to the client and anybody else who might be interested.
It was a long day. The event kicked off with a presentation about the history of Liseberg. It was mostly in Swedish but including a short Q&A about silhouettes and Henry Harrison which I took part in: short, because there really is very little known about him!
In preparation for this, the park’s historian had managed to find in their archives an old photograph of Harrison at work in his Liseberg silhouette booth. It shows a confident young man wearing a fashionable trilby hat and cutting a silhouette of a small child standing on a wooden chair. This stand-’em-on-a-chair trick is one I still use today on occasion. Even the most wriggly of small children will pose completely still when stood on a chair, I’m not quite sure why. Happily, he’s using a suitably sturdy-looking chair!
In many years of collecting I’ve never seen a Harrison silhouette mounted on a Liseberg-branded card. It’s possible they’re all still hiding in drawers and mantlepieces all over Europe, but perhaps more likely that Harrison didn’t bother to label his silhouettes. Many artists of the day sadly didn’t consider this important. So, unlike the silhouettes cut by his contemporary at Tivoli Gardens, it may never be possible to identify them. I do have a couple of unsigned and unlabelled silhouettes which I attribute to Harrison, based on stylistic similarities, but which cannot be identified with certainty.
If you happen to have a family silhouette cut by Henry Harrison please do send me a picture of it, particularly if you know it to have been made at Liseberg. From what I’ve seen Henry Harrison was a talented, yet largely unrecorded artist.