Enfilade

Exhibition | In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 21, 2020

Kara Walker, Maquette for The ‘Katastwóf Karavan’, 2017, painted laser-cut stainless steel
(Private collection)

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

Now on view at the New-York Historical Society:

In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes
New-York Historical Society, 7 January — 5 April 2020

Curated by Roberta Olson

This winter, the New-York Historical Society presents an exhibition and a special installation that take a fresh look at traditions of remembrance. The exhibition In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes traces the development of the late 18th- and 19th-century art form and how artists are reinventing the silhouette today. The special installation Life Cut Short: Hamilton’s Hair and the Art of Mourning Jewelry displays jewelry featuring human hair that was used as tokens of affection or memorials to lost loved ones.

Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (1763–1846) and Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852), Silhouette portrait of an unidentified woman, 1795, black ink, gouache, and graphite on paper laid on thin card (New-York Historical Society, Purchase, The Louis Durr Fund, 1945.344).

“New-York Historical is taking a deep dive into our expansive collection to explore 19th-century traditions of portraiture and remembrance,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The art of silhouettes has long been popular, and this exhibition traces both its history and how gifted, contemporary artists are currently revitalizing the art form. Mourning jewelry may have fallen out of fashion, but this installation showcases how it was once the height of elegance.”

The art of silhouettes—at first, black profiles either cut from paper or painted—emerged as a popular form of portraiture in 19th-century America when there were few trained portrait painters. Drawn mostly from New-York Historical’s significant collection, In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes traces the development of this popular art form and explores its contemporary revival. The exhibition showcases works by professional practitioners, like master of the genre Augustin Edouart, Charles Willson Peale, and Moses Williams—a Peale family slave who earned his freedom and worked producing silhouettes at the Peale Museum. Also featured are self-trained artists such as the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen and Martha Anne Honeywell—a woman born without arms and only three toes, who created intricate paper cut-outs, needlework, and penmanship in works that played with contradictions between ability and disability. Contemporary works by Béatrice Coron, James Prosek, Kumi Yamashita, and Kara Walker, who uses silhouettes to investigate the legacy of slavery, reveal the art form’s powerful reemergence.

Roberta J. M. Olson is curator of drawings at the New-York Historical Society and professor emeritus of art history at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She is the author of Fire and Ice: A History of Comets in Art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s