BLACK OUT: Silhouettes Then and Now

Book number: 94616 Product format: Hardback Author: ASMA MAEEM

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Bibliophile price £16.00
Published price £38

The silhouette as an art form reached the height of its popularity in the late 18th and 19th centuries, demanding considerable skill and dexterity from the artist, while the act of having a silhouette made was a performative process that enhanced the sitter's importance. The medium also raises interesting theoretical questions about the way we perceive negative space. Leading experts to shed light on the surprisingly complex historical, political, and social underpinnings of this ostensibly simple art form. This book is largely based on an exhibition of American silhouettes in the Washington National Gallery, which includes a well-known painting by the UK's 18th century master Joseph Wright of Derby, The Corinthian Maid, in which a young woman traces the silhouette of her sleeping lover on a nearby wall. In 1803 Charles Willson Peale installed the "physiognotrace" machine in his museum in Philadelphia, where a likeness could be mechanically created quickly and cheaply. Women and African Americans were often excluded from the privileged group of self-made men pushing the industry forward, but two of Peale's best cutters were disadvantaged people, with the mixed race Moses Williams specialising in studies of Native Americans, and Martha Ann Honeywell born without arms and manipulating the silhouette cutter with toes, mouth and a stump of an arm. Martha has a chapter to herself, including a discussion of her belief that the tiny patterns in the cosmos revealed the divine nature. A major silhouettist of the mid-19th century was Auguste Edouart, who specialised in full-length portrait silhouettes, a fashion he brought with him when he emigrated to America from France. Many of his silhouettes were sold as lithographs, generating a far bigger income, and among his sitters was John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. The exhibition also featured the work of four contemporary silhouette practitioners. Particularly striking are the cut-outs of Kara Walker depicting often brutal scenes from antebellum plantation life, exposing the inequity of power and exploitative relationships between master and slave. Kristi Malakoff, Kumi Yamashita, and Camille Utterback - all take the silhouette to unique and fascinating new heights. 182pp, reproductions on most double spreads.
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ISBN 9780691180588
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