14.06.2020 by Charles Burns
This August I’ve started scheduling virtual studio days from my new website @silhouettist.
To create some variety I’m naming each studio day as a tribute to artists of the past. Some are easy to find out information about, others not at all.
For me, it’s a great excuse to spend some time researching the history of silhouettes. I tend to do this anyway -but it’s good to have a reason.
Bot having any other way to pick them I’ve started at the letter ‘A’ and will simply work through all the silhouettists I know. It’s possible I’ll get to ‘B’ before the end of 2020!
You missed these ones, but there are plenty more virtual events coming up!
Below are the artists I named my studio days after this month.
Just to avoid any confusion, this does not mean I’ll be cutting silhouettes in the style of these artists! I’ll cut your silhouettes in my own style, of which there are many examples all over this website.
However, if you’d like me to cut your portraits in the manner of any artist please ask. I always love a challenge!
Carl Ackerlund was a Swedish silhouettist who emigrated to the USA at a young age. He lived in Minnesota for many years before moving to Iowa with his wife Minnie.
Carl tended to give his silhouettes scalloped bust lines (sometimes with a forked tail at the front) and distinctive fronded eyelashes. Both of these stylistic habits make it easy to attribute an unstamped Ackerlund silhouette. However, I’ve never seen such a silhouette. This indicates that he fastidiously stamped all his silhouettes with his name and contact details.
These stamps help build a picture of his working habits. Carl seems to have worked at a variety of state fairs and department stores throughout the 1920s.
Carl A. Ackerlund is listed in the1910 census of St Paul, Ramsey State, Minnesota, which states Sweden as his birthplace. He apparently came to USA in 1903 aged 19, 2 years before his parents and 2 sisters, who followed him 2 years later in 1905.
He may have added a ‘c’ to his original name of Akerlund but the writing in the original census document is not easy to read. Apparently he was a blacksmith by trade, obviously cutting silhouettes in his spare time.
The Minnesota’s newspaper ‘The Peoples’ Choice’ list his death in their obituaries section.
Miss Charlotte Addington is one of many really obscure silhouettists about whom almost nothing is known.
I only know of her existence from a group of silhouettes figures wearing early nineteenth century clothing (possibly c. 1810), cut at Richmond Park. The work isn’t signed or labelled, but somebody (we know not who) added her name on the back at a later date. If they hadn’t done, there would e very little evidence that an artist of this name had ever lived.
It is uncertain whether or not she was a professional silhouettist. It’s possible, but perhaps unlikely. It’s more likely that she was one of many talented amateurs who enjoyed cutting out scenes from paper.
The group silhouette shows eleven small figures, some of them children and none more than an inch high. Charlotte cut the figures from a single sheet of shiny black paper, leaving them all joined together with a thin black line of paper. She then mounted the whole composition on a piece of white card.
Although she cut them ‘all in a row’, she arranged them by varying the heights and placements of the figures, putting the tallest in the middle. They are cut in neoclassical in style, with one woman carrying an urn.
The Adelaide Gallery is more famous for its innovations in Daguerreotype than for silhouette cutting. Nevertheless, a number of silhouettists seem to have worked there. The London gallery was active in the mid nineteenth century.
Sadly, only one signed silhouette from the Gallery has ever been found. It’s a professional-looking, paper-cut silhouette with bronzing added for details. The professional look of the silhouette makes it certain that there must be more. Nobody makes just one silhouette like this!
It’s hard to say why no more silhouettes have ever come to light. Are they all lost? Perhaps a more likely explanation is that the Gallery did not encourage in-house artists to sign their work.
The Gallery was based in Adelaide Street, London, north of Strand. The only known silhouette has a date, 1841. An artist called Darbyshire seems to have made it, according to the signature (this reads: A. Darbyshire, Adelaide Gallery).
Research points to another silhouettist called Barber working there at roughly the same time, but I’ve never seen a silhouette bearing this name.
How long was the silhouette studio there in business,? It’s hard to tell.
How many silhouettes did it produce? Nobody really knows.
Who was Darbyshire, and hoe long did he work there? Did he go on to work at other London galleries, or perhaps set up later on his own? Without seeing more Darbyshire silhouettes it’s impossible to tell.
Today the Gallery is more known for its pioneering work in early photography. For this reason, it’s regarded as an important part of the early to mid nineteenth century artistic world. The fact that there was ever a silhouette studio there is a footnote in the story.
The French artist known as “Monsieur Adolphe” seems to have been quite a character. He was well known for his brand of ‘French’ silhouettes in nineteenth-century Brighton.
Edgar Adolphe was prolific silhouettist who worked in Brighton throughout the 1830s and 40s. He is most famous for his posthumous profile of George IV. His work is always signed and so easily identified.
Edgar Adolphe began making silhouettes in France for King Louis Philippe (or so he said) before making his way to Brighton in the 1830s.. He mostly painted bust, ¾ and full length silhouettes on card, as well as compositions and profile miniatures. His silhouettes are his best work.
Though he did sometimes paint purely in black, Edgar Adolphe’s style is defined by his restrained use of colour and embellishments. He preferred to use green-grey and blue-grey watercolour as a base colour, rather than black, adding gold and white details on top. Many of his silhouettes have a line of shadow (thin black paint) below the bust-line, which gives them a slightly 3D effect. They look like the silhouette is floating about 2mm above the paper.
Today, Adolphe silhouettes are prized collector’s item, hard to come by and quite valuable. They are quite easy to spot, juts look for “Adolphe” in neat letters under the bust line.