Saturday

Hubard Silhouettes





The images came to me from one of the readers. Having obtained that reader's permission, I use them here to illustrate what I call decorative silhouettes. For better or for worse, the reader believed these to have been cut by Hubard in the mid-1800s. His assumption was supported by: 1) The folks at the XXX Museum in XXX gave me the impression that he would cut these at public events for the entertainment of onlookers and sell them as souvenirs. 2) I was further encouraged by the fact that a well known highend dealer in XXX has continued to press me for them since I got them 3 years ago.

Collecting silhouettes is a very specialized field. There are less than a dozen dealers who specialize on the material. A few of them are far more knowledgable than the others. Most generalized antique dealers know very little about the subject.

Whenever there is Martha or George looking silhouettes, that will be the first red flag. This Hubard, the maker of these two items, could not spell his own name correctly (see photo). The reader reminded me that perhaps Hubard was drunk that day, and he too can relate such an experience. This reader is obviously a very good sport.

To my knowledge, Hubard never signed his silhouettes. He had inkstamps and pastedowns, however. These silhouettes are hollow-cuts. If a silhouette purportedly cut by Honeywell turns up, a hollow-cut, as it once did in the 20s, onw should be very suspicious of it. Carrick saw one; she thought it was genuine, but later dismissed it a fabrication.

I receive quite a few attribution requests. I always try to do my best, but it is tough to please most of the time.

Any Thoughts on This Silhouette?


I found this item on the web. It is being offered at $5400! That is a hefty price. I have never seen anything so colorful as this. Since this is my homepage, I believe I am entitled to my opinion. I like the frame, but I do not like whatever that is in the frame.

If you learned the meaning of "good" once, you will always know anything that is good on any subject. The problem is that most people only have a knack to appreciate only the bad.

Wednesday

Another Enigmatic Honeywell





This cut-and-paste silhouette appeared on eBay recently. It brought $250. Perhaps, it was the dreadful frame, or perhaps, it was the presence of an eyelash. Perhaps, it was the excellence in the delineation of the profile. Perhaps, it was because the seller did not mention the dimensions.

The curve of the inscription is of interest, along with the eyelash, and the year this was cut. See the example below for a similar work by Honeywell. Did she sometimes paint the eyelash? This work is attributed to 1829, which is only a few years difference from her work pictured below. Do other collectors own a Honeywell with painted eyelash? This subject may unlock one of the mysteries for further investigation.

Saturday

William Bache Land Deed


This interesting item appeared recently in an auction. It is dated November 21, 1838 from the Borough of Wellsborough, County of Tioga, Pennsylvania. The parcel consisted of one and one-seventh acre located at King Street and Pearl Street. It was sold to William Bache. Although his name appears on the document, and that several people signed it, he was not one of the signers.

Thursday

Collecting Silhouettes: What to Collect, a Dilemma of a Physiognomist

We all considered this subject when we started collecting antique silhouettes. Beginners, usually, “grab” everything that comes their way. There is nothing wrong with that as long as one can afford to do so, and it is certainly educational; quick education, at a cost, may be the appropriate expression. Nevertheless, the outcome of the items purchased in haste, without proper education on the subject, often ends unloved and unwanted. This is the result of having purchased misattributed items, reproductions, fakes and furbelows. There is also another caveat for any collector, from beginners to advanced, no matter what one collects; this caveat relates to simple human nature. Whether the proper term is greed, carelessness, or just plain stupidity is difficult to assess. Perhaps it is the combination of all of the above. This writer is certainly guilty as charged.

“Buy the book before the coin” is an often-quoted expression for beginning numismatists, but this is true for any collecting field, including physiognomists. The disregard, to this first fundamental rule, often compels the focus into disarray. Having learned the lesson, awkwardly, a collector soon discovers the importance of reference materials. A collector, only then, is able to ascertain his holdings. In “that” collection, there is a vast array of profiles. Some are Continental; others may be British, a few scattered American, and other profiles that are un-attributable to their origin. The belief, once held, that a silhouette is a silhouette derives a new sense of significance. Soon, a collector is able to determine likes and dislikes, common verses rare, and such factors and attributes as aesthetics and even the attractiveness of crudeness.

Should a collector specialize? By specializing, the knowledge will be somewhat limited to other media, methods and processes. However, a specialist is capable of knowing even the minute specifics of one’s chosen field. Is diversification more attractive? Each collector must make a decision. A collector living in England would likely collect British silhouettes; and a collector from Germany is likely to collect German subjects. The situation in this country differs somewhat, as many British and Continental profiles crossed the Atlantic in the last two-hundred years. Just because a profile came out of Boston, there is no guarantee that it is an American piece.

If one were to collect all attractive silhouettes, one must not only possess the wealth of a King, but also a very large house or a series of houses, with many high walls to display the collection. How many silhouettes are too many? Most collectors are of average means with average sized “quarters,” whatever that may be. After all, profiles are for displaying; they do not belong in boxes, drawers or under the bed. Having extended the writing this far, without any substance, and before the readers start an accusation on wordiness and verbosity, a change of course may be in order.

There are, basically, three types of American silhouettes: hollow-cut, cut-and-paste and painted. There are, also, varieties and combination of those three main types. The terms are easily recognizable, and they reflect what they represent. A hollow-cut means exactly that. The inner portion of a paper was cut out leaving the rest intact. This type of work is the bulk of American art. A cut-and-paste work is an image cut from black paper and then pasted onto a light colored backing. Not many American artists used this technique. Painted silhouettes need no explanation. This type represents only a small minority of American works.

In addition, there are two main types of images: bust length and full figure. The full figure silhouettes, almost always, employ the cut-and-paste technique, and the majority of what is available are British in origin. William Henry Brown is one of a very few exceptions. How does one categorize Edouart? He cut many silhouettes at Saratoga and elsewhere. Nevertheless, can we consider him an American artist?

The majority of American silhouettes were produced between 1803-1810, and they were hollow-cuts using a tracing device of one sort or another. From 1810-1825, the whole market of profile taking declined. A short revival materialized around 1825 and continued until the mid-40s. This is the period where a new generation of profile takers found new clientele, the sons and daughters of the generation past. Most artists of this period are anonymous. Many artists, now, used a fancier hollow-cut method and combined watercolor, inking, and even ready-made woodblocks prints.

Monday

Can Someone Identify the Artist?







RARE Double Silhouette

Although I owned several double silhouettes in the past, they were all two single silhouettes cut from two papers that were matted to look as though they were a true double silhouette. When I saw this silhouette last week at an antique show, I knew I was looking at something very special, but I had to make sure and opened the back. One piece of LARGE wove paper measuring 6.5 x 8.5 inches stared at me. To make things even better, the gold leaf frame, quite worn, is original to the silhouette with its bubbly glass. I looked all over this large paper for a possible embossing but no luck.

This may sound funky, but certain, minor details that may be quite insignificant to most collectors are quite valuable to me. In this instance, there are traces of lead around the periphery of the images, obviously indicating that a stylus was not used to trace the subjects. The image of the man looks very similar to those cut at the Peale’s Museum. The use of lead indicates it is not a Museum piece. This is not to say that lead was not used in lieu of the stylus; however, I, personally, have yet to meet a Peale with penciling around the border. Someone may very well disprove this statement right off the bat by writing me saying that someone is in possession of a silhouette embossed “Peale,” “Museum,” or “Peale’s Museum” with penciled borders.

Although these two silhouettes are quite unlike each other, and they seem as though different artists cut them, certain telltale signs suggest that both are by the same hand. They are both very confidently cut without ragged lines; every contour is smooth, and the lines are straight where they need be and the curves are well rounded. The shape of the ribbons and the hanging hair details of the neckline are the diagnostic emblem of both cut by the same hand. Furthermore, they are not a brother and a sister. As Lavater may say, their physiognomy differs.

This is ca.1810, and a nice example of a true double silhouette.

Friday

William Chamberlain and His Printed Torso


Important Link to William Chamberlain: Printed Torso

I have long suspected that Chamberlain sometimes used printed torso for his silhouettes. Please see my earlier articles on him from the archives below. This item appeared recently, and it is hard to question that this work is not by Chamberlain. Puffy sleeve silhouettes are likely his work too.

Sunday

WOW for Honeywell Silhouette

I said that it was a rare silhouette by Honeywell (see below). Perhaps some bidders read my "plug." It brought $900 plus the usual commission for the auction house. Perhaps I should not have opened my big mouth before the auction even started. Was the eyelash drawn by Honeywell? I hope the buyer puts the silhouette in more appropriate frame.

Martha Anne Honeywell Silhouette



MARTHA ANNE HONEYWELL SILHOUETTE

This interesting silhouette is from a recent eBay auction. The off-white, background paper has an inscription, “Cut by M. Honeywell with the Mouth, Cincinat(?).” Honeywell always wrote in a slight upright curve; however, this work has an acute downward curve. This is atypical, and it needs to be challenged.

What was the reason for Honeywell writing in this manner?
The square paper was folded to “fit” the round frame. Should not there be “breaks” and discolorations along the folds?
The frame is definitely from the first quarter of the nineteenth-century. Was the silhouette replaced in this frame at much later date? Why was not a standard, rectangular frame used?
What is the significance of the border surrounding the silhouette?
This profile has an eyelash. This is not the norm for Honeywell.

These are difficult questions to answer. Was it actually cut by Honeywell? Could it be a forgery?

Let us assume that the border of the silhouette is a much later addition having no significance attached to the profile itself. However, it is a reminiscent of Honeywell’s “endless knot” work. This similarity mystifies its attribution somewhat. Whether the border was placed there to serve a specific purpose is unknown. The presentation of the oval opening is quite accurate lengthwise but its width indicates that this border was created for another image. The scrollwork has similarities with engine- turned designs of the third quarter of the nineteenth-century.

The folds are somewhat old but not nearly as old as the silhouette. There are indications that the silhouette was placed in this frame many years after the “cutting.” The “foxing” spots on the right, parallel to the bust tip are stabilized and likely contemporaneous with the silhouette. The fold line does not disrupt the foxing. In addition, the texture of the ink on the letter “t” of the word “the” in “with the mouth” has not suffered a break or a separation. The folds themselves are not heavy; they are more curl-like than actual folds. This may explain the insignificant wears along the letter and the foxing. A framer used a “limited” sense in reframing it and used a frame that was available at the time. Had the framer been more careful, a frame of correct proportion would have been used instead of compromising by applying the folds. This all indicates that the real value of this image was unknown to the framer. Nevertheless, this framer was knowledgeable enough to preserve the inscriptions and used a border to improvise its aesthetics.

The eyelash is not a cutout; it is inked. It is more of a blob than a single stroke from a quill. It is placed too low and not lifelike. Someone other than Honeywell may have applied this.

There is no explanation as to why Honeywell inscribed her work in such an unusual downward curve. Was she following the bust curve? She initiated the inscription too high and realized that she would be too close to the bust tip on the right. As mentioned earlier, she had a tendency of writing in a slight upward curve. If she were to follow her usual manner, the inscription may have touched the bottom of the bust tip. She, too, was only human. Anyone can be careless at times.

There is no doubt that this cutting is by Honeywell. The penmanship is without a question hers. The profile has all the telltale signs of her work. The backing paper is original to the profile; it is contemporary and belongs to Honeywell. The ink streak seen on the left of the bust is another indicative attribute quite often seen with her work.

This is a rare profile with the name of a town. Moreover, distinct reverse curvature of the inscription makes it exceedingly rare. The profile is in want of a good contemporary rectangular frame.

Augustus Day Rare Silhouette Artist





As with most silhouettists of the time, not much is known about Augustus Day. The most recent entry that I found was from the monumental work by Sue McKechnie (see article below on "two silhouette books that are must haves") written in 1978, but her entry is almost all, word for word, taken directly from another great work on the subject by Carrick! It seems odd that McKechnie mentions that Augustus Day only worked regionally at Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, as her "bibliography" cites a work by Croce/Wallace The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860." Croce/Wallace clearly state that Augustus Day worked in Charleston, South Carolina, as well. They reference this particular source to another work, Artists in the Life of Charleston by Anna Wells Rutledge, 1949. Rutledge confirms her entry by citing two contemporary newspaper ads. One is dated Jan. 23, 1804 from the Times and the second dated Jan. 25, 1804 from the Courier. Both ads mention of a physiognotrace machine for taking profiles, at 25 cents each.

So, all said and done, there seems to be no new information regarding Augustus Day. Augustus was a carver, a gilder, a looking glass maker, and a painter. As a silhouettist working with an use of a pantograph (hollow-cut method), his career as a hollow-cutter probably lasted only between 1803-1812. Most of his known works are those that are either fully painted, as a portrait artist using colors (ca.1830), or a combination of black painted bust with hollow-cut facial features. Of course, with any other artists, there exist some transitional patterns (ca.1810-1830) not belonging to either of the above categories; yet, some similarities in relations to each other may be observed.

A good example of such a transitional portrait was offered by Cowan's Auctions of Cincinnati, Ohio (see photo below). The description offered by the auction house was as follows: "paper cut silhouette by Day, possibly Augustus Day, no dates given but working in the Philadelphia area as early as 1804, still listed in directories as late as 1833. Painted portrait of woman in lace bonnet with fine eglomise mat/cover glass in original gilt frame, ink singed below day fecit, price realized: $258.75."

Although this work is clearly post-1804, as he signs this work with "Day fecit," it is a very early portrait utilizing a hollow-cutting with painted bust. From the attire worn by the lady and the frame used, it is no later than 1815. As can be seen from the photo, the frame is a real dandy! It looks to be gilted wood, but the texture seems to indicate either a type of sandblast technique on wood base or applying a base coat on wood with sandy texture, and then gold-leafed. Reverse painted glass also provides a striking contrast against the gold frame. This was likely made by Augustus himself. It is difficult to believe that this fine work only realized $250+, basically just a price of this fine frame! Portraits of old women are not what we would like to have hanging on our walls, but even then, this fine framed image should have realized at least $500 wholesale with retail price of perhaps $750.

Another fine piece was offered by the same auction company (see photo).It was described as, "fine miniature portrait by Day, watercolor on paper, signed in the lower right Day fecit, possibly for Augustus Day (Philadelphia, early 19th century) or Charles William Day (Boston, mid-19th century). Bust-length profile portrait of a stern gentleman. American, first half of the 19th century. In its original mahogany-veneered frame with eglomise' glass bearing the initials fs; 4" x 3" (w/o frame), 10" x 7.5" (w/frame).”The auctioneer made a pair of "safe" attributions here, by mentioning a transit English artist, who just happens to be in Boston around 1844, also named "Day." The attire worn by the subject, most likely a four- button double-breasted jacket, and the hair, which has been parted from the side, is clearly c.1840. So which "Day" is it? We do not know how Charles William Day signed his works but we do know how “our” Day signed his. We are also familiar with "bust tips" and this bust termination closely resemble that of his other works. Then, there is a fine framed reverse painted glass, no doubt made by Augustus himself. Although this profile is a side view, it is not considered a silhouette. It is a miniature portrait. This particular example is listed here as a point of reference only. Bidders liked this work as it realized $2300!

Although Augustus Day's painted profiles are not particularly rare, they are quite difficult to procure. The rare ones are his earlier works embossed with his blindstamp, "DAY'S PATENT." This particular "patent" likely referred to his profile cutting machine (see another article on embossing dies). All cutters, during the period of 1803-1810, advertised that their patented machine was the best and quite different from the ones advertised elsewhere, but in reality all were nothing more than a simple tracing device attached to a pantograph.

The photos of a young lady are from my collection. This is a fully cut profile with embossed "DAY'S PATENT." Carrick knew of only two examples, both belonging to one Mrs. Hampton Carson, and called them "very rare." When I purchased this silhouette, it came to me unframed. I have since placed it in a period gesso frame with gold leaf. There are numerous repairs of the paper with a chink missing to the left of her forehead. This has been backed with paper and sewn. This is a very old repair. There is an old inscription in ink above the head, "Miriam Coye Wil(son)." The Mormon site “familysearch.org” does show a "Miriam Wilson" born c.1805 in Connecticut, who married one "Henry Coy." Since the silhouette was cut c.1805, the inscriber surely must have been mistaken when inked the name. In all probability, the silhouette is a mother of Miriam Wilson.

Wednesday

William Bache Scrapbook


William Bache Scrapbook Mystery

Carrick mentions a scrapbook owned by one Mrs. Converse, a descendant of Bache. This is a huge portfolio containing almost 2000 images. A photo of the illustrations from Carrick is attached here for your inspection. This is what Carrick says about the content.

It is somewhat surprising to collectors who have thought of William Bache's silhouette work as almost entirely hollow-cut to find that the scrapbook is composed chiefly of the cut-and-pasted type; nineteen hundred and thirty six, to be exact. There are, besides, nineteen painted, nine hollow-cut, and one "hole in the doughnut."

I wondered what ever happened to this scrapbook till I found this little information.From the National Portrait Gallery comes the following:
William Bache, Bache scrapbook of 1846 silhouettes, ca. 1805–10, cut paper silhouettes. Partial gift of Sara Bache Bloise in memory of Dr. William Bache.
So it seems the descendant of Mrs. Converse donated most of it or all of it, minus some that were given out, sold or retained. I wish Sara contacted me before making that donation to the Smithsonian. Now, the collection will just sit there in a box somewhere in the basement of the capitol.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that you or I should have the possession of this collection. It should have been cataloged and photographed for present and future lovers of antique silhouettes. Now the collection is inaccessible. If I am not mistaken, Carrick's collection, also, went ot the Smithsonian. It is probably just sitting there next to Bache scrapbook. She left us a nice book on the subject, still the only one, but her collection should have been cataloged before she donated it. If anyone else is thinking of donating collections, at least let me catalog them first before they end up in a dark box, likely never to be seen again.

As for the "style" of Bache, we can never know his complete bust styles now. I, personally, do not recall ever having seen a cut-and-paste Bache except fot those illustrations in Carrick. A few of those, I can say, are definitely Bache, having studied a particular bust style of his, but the rest seem to lose attributable characteristics, at least for me. Cut-and-paste silhouettes are not common here. Aside from Honeywell, Hubard, Hankes, Brown and Edouart, I can not mention any more; and, Brown and Edouart are mostly full length silhouettes. Oh well...