Silhouettes

Antique Silhouette of From the Independence Hall Museum of Charles Willson Peale
  • Lovely American hollow cut silhouette from the Independence Hall museum of Charles Willson Peale.  Peale was an amazing artist and scientist who made a mark on the Early Republic by painting some of the most important forefathers of our nation and interesting the general public in science.  His Museum displayed exotic taxidermy (for which he invented the process used in America) and dinosaur bones as well as his pastel portraits of statesmen that are not housed in the National Portrait Gallery in Philadelphia.  While people visited his museum, they were invited to have their silhouette cut using a tracing machine invented by his friend who shared the patent with Peale.  The great majority of silhouettes bearing the impressed stamp "MUSEUM" were cut by Peale's slave Moses Williams.  Williams managed the silhouette business continued to run Peale's silhouette cutting after Peale emancipated him in 1802.  Moses Williams is one of the earliest known African-American artists.  Williams is thought to have retired circa 1825 but we are unsure of the exact year. 

    This lovely lady has the "MUSEUM" embossed stamp below her bust-line termination.  At the bottom of the silhouette paper is an early inscription "Eleanor McKaraher taken Janu, 25, 1827".  Unfortunately, the inscription is written on the back of the paper so that, in order to have the inscription showing, the "MUSEUM" stamp is backwards.  Someone also rubbed graphite over the back of the "MUSEUM" stamp to make it more legible (albeit backwards).  If the inscription (which is period ink) was written at the time of the cutting this silhouette would have been cut after the date Williams is thought to have retired and, therefore, cut by one of Peale's sons.  I have to say though that the clothing looks closer to 1820 than 1827.  Since inscriptions were often written by family members after the silhouettes were cut (most often decades after), the information within those inscriptions is always questionable. 

    I was going to frame this silhouette with the correct side outwards, but then decided that the inscription was more important than the fact that the MUSEUM stamp reads backwards.  So, the lady is framed backwards in her period maple frame.  She can easily be switched and I'm happy to do that for the buyer is asked.  The framed size is 6 1/2" x 7 3/4".  There are two tight tears below the bust line (see the last photo with arrows pointing the tears out).  Still, it is a lovely circa 1820s silhouette by a silhouette artist which everyone should have in their collection.

    As a note, Charles Willson Peale died in 1827, leaving the management to his sons.  The museum was sold in 1830.

    (#4699)     $500

    Exhibited "Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America", American Folk Art Museum, New York,October 6, 2016 - February 26, 2017.

    Published: Hollander, Stacy, Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America, exhibition catalog, October 6, 2016 - February 26, 2017, 85.

    Please see the Silhouettist Bios page for more information about Charles Willson Peale & Moses Williams.