My husband has been a difficult man to shop for for the over thirty years that I have known him. But that is now a matter of the past. As I’ve mentioned, since moving to New England, we’ve started regularly prowling around antique shops. I started to notice silhouettes in shop after shop. Then I saw an article in Architectural Digest about art advisor Will Kopelman, Drew Barrymore’s husband, and the dressing room / office he created that featured a wall of silhouettes. I could picture them massed on the stairway wall of our home. I showed the picture in the magazine to my husband, hoping that he’d think the same way. I “subtly” asked him if he could be interested in collecting silhouettes and it turns out that he had been noticing them right along with me and was totally amenable to becoming a collector. Choirs sang! I finally had something I could buy my husband for Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day… Yippee!
The word silhouette (sill-oo-et) comes from Étienne de Silhouette, the 18th century French finance minister. In 1759, France was in the throes of the Seven Year’s War, causing Silhouette to impose an austerity program to try to dig the country out of its credit crisis. His name became linked with anything done or made cheaply, just like the outline portraits that were the least expensive way to record someone’s appearance in a pre-photography world.
We’re by no means experts, but we’ve learned that the “real” silhouettes, cut from dark paper and applied to a light background are rare and expensive – hundreds to thousands of dollars each. What are more common, and much less expensive, are prints that date from early in the 20th century. Wallace Nutting, from right around the area where we live, is the most famous of these purveyors of silhouette prints. These prints will, no doubt, form the backbone of our collection, but it’ll be a pleasure to assemble it, one gift to my husband at a time.