Rare Antique American Folk Silhouette with Woodblock Printed Body
  • This is a wonderful American folk art classic. This silhouette has a hollow cut head and a block printed body. Although a few other examples are recorded of this style with the body reverse-cut into a wood block which was then inked and stamped onto the paper, they come on the market very, very rarely. Rifken notes that these are much rarer than silhouettes with lithographed bodies. American Folk Portraits notes all known examples at the time of the books printing in 1982. At that time there are two examples (one woman and one man) in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center collection; a sample book by this artist with a Westminster, Massachusetts history1; and a privately-owned example inscribed "Roxberry, Vermont, 1831"; and an example in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village.

    This gentleman presents a body and style I’ve not encountered before. The body is printed almost to the waist and the block was cut with cross-hatches to give the coat texture. The body is slightly turned towards the viewer to that the lapel on the man’s proper right is shown. An interesting note about the cutting of this male silhouette is that the hair combed up above his forehead is cut with waves as opposed to drawn in on the outside of the profile. By this period in America (1830), most hollow-cut silhouettes of men had the addition of drawn or painted hair around a rounded cut-away head. I’m posting some block-body men I’ve had in the past for comparison. I have always found it so intriguing that with these rarely found block-printed or lithograph bodies still appear to be by different hands. The bodies are never quite the same and the cutting is obviously done by different artists with different styles.

    The silhouette is in good condition with toning to left side, bottom of the paper. The toning is because a piece of black fabric used for the backing was placed between silhouette paper and wood backing and protected the silhouette paper. If the fabric had been the full size of the paper, it would have protected all of the paper. However, fabric was expensive and silhouettists of the period tended to use as small a piece as possible. I have inserted conservation materials so that the paper no longer touches the wood back. There is a bit of paper rubbing at around 1 o’clock just inside the oval portal. It has a beautifully restored églomisé mat in gold overpainted frame that measures 4 ¾” x 5 ¾”. As you can see in the photos, the frame has a few dings. Circa 1830 and a great American folk silhouette.

    #6245    $1450


    Rifken, Blume J., Silhouettes in America, 1790-1840: A Collector's Guide, Burlington, VT, Paradigm Press, Inc. 1987. 66.

    Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center

    1 According to American Folk Portraits , the Westminster, Mass sample book includes both fully cut profiles and examples with block printed bodies. The privately-owned book is assumed to be a sample book, but (as with Edouart's duplicate folios) would have provided the silhouettist with a marketing opportunity to show prospective sitters what types of work he/she could do. The fully cut examples in the book include scalloped bust-line terminations. American Folk Portraits at 245. Several years ago, I inquired about the sample book from Barbara Luck who was curator of paintings and prints when American Folk Portraits was written. She told me that the book had been owned by Bertram K and Nina Fletcher Little. I tried tracing the book but it seems to have become hidden in another private collection. I would love to examine the book to see if later scholarship would allow us to attribute the silhouettist from the fully cut silhouettes.