Bear with me and my book reviews. You know that the Fall is like Christmas to those of us who love design books!
One of the more intriguing books to come out this season is Silhouette: The Art of the Shadowby art historian Emma Rutherford. I've long been drawn to these graphic visages, and I'm not alone. Think of Lulu Guinness whose logo includes a silhouette (in fact, Guinness wrote the forward to the book), or Diamond Baratta who introduced a great silhouette fabric a few years ago.
Rutherford traces the history of the silhouette all the way back to Etruscan vases that are considered to be the precursors to this graphic art form. The book explores the silhouette's popularity in 18th c. France and of course the Victorian age (those Victorians were awfully crazy for silhouettes...), and many 20th c. examples are included as well, most notably the provocative work of artist Kara Walker. Rutherford reminds the reader that silhouettes have long been created in many forms besides paper cutouts- paintings and carved and molded pieces were also favorite mediums for the silhouette.
After reading this book, I find that I now have far more of an appreciation for silhouettes; to me, they're no longer just a Victorian novelty. Is it fine art? Well, no, not really, but to dismiss silhouettes as mere decorative trifles would be quite a shame.
Roger Palmer, Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh (c. 1705–1785), life-size head, hollow-cut on blue paper, 9-3/5 inches high, Private Collection
A Jockey at Newmarket, Pringle (dated 1827), painted and bronzed on card, 3-1/2 inches high. Lidstone Collection.
The Hunt, Master Barber, aged 9 (fl. c. 1851), cut-out paper, 5 inches high, Ian Cross Collection.
(All images ©Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow by Emma Rutherford, Rizzoli New York, 2007)