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Profiles in Miniature: The Art of the Silhouette

DATES December 17, 1975 through March 14, 1976
  • December 12, 1975 Profiles in Miniature: The Art of the Silhouette will be on view at The Brooklyn Museum, Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue, from December 17 through February 22, 1976. Admission is free.

    The exhibition spans the years 1780 to 1840, when silhouettes, also known as profiles in miniature, shades, or shadow paintings, reached their height as a popular form of portraiture for everyone from kings to the lower-middle class. Inexpensive, accurate, and easily reproduce-able, the silhouette served as the equivalent of a photographic likeness. About 60 examples selected from the Museum’s extensive silhouette collection represent American, Continental, and most of the eminent British profilists, among them John Miers (1756-1821), Mrs. Beetham, Francis Torond, and August Edouart (1769-1861), who worked both in England and America. Included are beautiful and delicate miniature portraits, along with family vignettes and charming paper cut-out landscape scenes. The exhibition was organized by Dianne H. Pilgrim, Associate Curator of the Department of Decorative Arts, and catalogued by Hope Alswang.

    The word “silhouette” is of French origin, derived from the name of Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1769), whose favorite hobby was the cutting of profiles from black paper. He did not invent the art, for shadow painting goes back to the cave paintings at Lascaux, 15,000 B.C. In France, by the late 16th century, shadow portraits were a widely-enjoyed pastime. The earliest known silhouettes in Britain were those of William and Mary, said to have been cut by a Mrs. Pyburg in the late 17th century.

    Silhouettes have been cut from paper with scissors or machine, painted in water colors or india ink on cardboard or the reverse side of glass, or formed with a mixture of pine root and beer on ovals of white plaster.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1975, 027
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