This wonderful silhouette of a donkey race is by the Hubard Gallery and was possibly part of the Gallery’s traveling exhibition which was the subject of at least three editions of a catalogue and many printed reviews. It features 5 riders (well, one of them was a rider shortly before being captured by profile while being bucked off), 5 donkeys and 1 dog. Amazingly, despite containing 11 characters, the silhouette is cut from only two pieces of paper. The lead donkey and rider are cut as one silhouette. Then the 4 donkeys, riders and dog are all cut as one silhouette—even the rider being bucked, head-first, off his mount, the last donkey, being pulled back by his rider to avoid running into the back of the bucking donkey and the dog standing on the ground who no doubt started the bucking! This is a truly amazing piece of artwork. The cut-work include details of the donkeys’ coats which show you their fuzzy nature; a ragged edge to the item used by the leader to point out the way (which may be a feather); clothing details such as an open shirt cuff; a stick being used as a whip as well as a riding crop; reins; a loose girth strap; a flying coattail; hats and caps and flying hair--all intermingled but clearly defined. The gilt and white embellishment further adds to the delight and humor of this conversation silhouette. The silhouette card is backed by a trade label that McKechnie refers to as Trade Label 9 or 10. She dated it from the 1830s but I believe the silhouette and its label are from the mid-1820s. First, the trade label refers to a silver palette that Hubard received in 1823—while the label can be no earlier than 1823, it may have been used close to that date. Second, the label refers to Hubard’s fame in several countries, including the US—where he and the Hubard Gallery arrived no later than 1825. Third, by the 1830s, the Hubard Gallery was marking almost all full-length silhouette cards with its embossed stamps, none of which are not found on this silhouette. Fourth, the 3rd edition of the catalog of the Gallery’s traveling exhibition was printed in 1825, in Philadelphia—number 14 of list of cuttings from the exhibition is titled “A humorous representation of an ENGLISH DONKEY, RACE.” There is a good likelihood that this donkey race is the exhibition piece referred to in the catalog.
It is in a period, but not original rosewood veneer frame with a gilt liner. The frame portal is a bit bigger than the silhouette card so I floated the card with Japanese rice paper tape on acid free paper that I painted to come as close as possible to the color of the silhouette card. It is hard to notice that the silhouette card is a hair smaller than the frame rabbet. The silhouette is in very fine condition but for overall toning of the paper and a curved light brown stain in the upper right quadrant. The frame is missing some veneer but the wood underneath has been stained so that it is not too noticeable. There is also some missing veneer on the very edge of the frame profile which has not been stained but is also not noticeable and, anyway, the underlying wood there could also be stained if it bothered you. Framed size is 12 ½” x 21 ¼”. Size of the silhouette is 8” x 16 ¾”.
This is a rare opportunity to get a special silhouette with different and interesting subject matter—add to your collection of humor! The fact that it is by a well-collected group of artists and was likely an exhibition piece is just icing on the cake!
Reference: Hubard, William James, A Catalogue Of The Subjects Contained In The Hubard Gallery: To Which Is Prefixed, A Brief Memoir of Master Hubard, Atkinson & Alexander, printers, Philadelphia, 1825 (3rd Edition). 15.
Please see the Silhouettist Bios page for more information about Master W.J. Hubard & Hubard Gallery.