Antique Silhouette Pair of American Hollow Cuts. Sisters Julia Ely and Amelia Ely Phelps.
  • Offered is this really great pair of American hollow cut silhouette sisters. They have nice deep double-curved bust termination lines. Being from circa 1820, both have narrow ruffs at the neck which are deftly cut with sawtooth borders. Both young ladies wear their hair in a chignon, low on the back of the head and secured with a haircomb. Both silhouettes are embellished with drawn hair, lace edging and a series of half-circles around the bust. We occasionally see American hollow cut profiles with this half-circle decoration but I’ve never tied it to a particular artist. However, recently, I acquired a pair of silhouettes in a single frame. The husband of the pair has Everet Howard’s rarely found impressed stamp and the woman is finished with the half-circle decoration. Everet Howard is not known for painted or drawn embellishment—he is known for his deft scissor and knife work, especially pen-knife slashing around the edge of a profile as decoration for the hair and wildly creative bust termination lines. But the signed man of the marriage pair has painted hair so Howard did do some of it. I am not ready to say that these silhouettes can be “attributed” to Howard. Attributed is a serious word, correctly used by an expert who feels sure that a piece is done by the artist being attributed. I am not certain that these silhouettes were done by Howard. The dialog and research is only beginning in what may be a connection to Everet Howard and these half-circle embellished silhouettes. Note that the woman that I came to me framed with the Howard stamped man does not have the same bust-line termination as these young women. Indeed, no silhouettes that I can firmly attribute to Howard have these particular bust-line terminations. The woman framed with the stamped man may not have even started life in the frame with him. However, the cutting of facial features and sawtooth edging in the wife’s bonnet and the husband’s frilled shirt front indicate that the same artist did both. Since Howard seemed to take special delight in varying his bust-line terminations, he might have done this double curve.

    These young sisters are framed in period gilt cushioned frames and backed by family history. The lady on the left is “Julia”. Handwritten in pencil on the wood frame back is “Julia Ely Lister of Amelia __ Phelps [Philps?] Aunt of ____Moore & Mary E Dexter married their father”. The silhouette on the right, “Amelia”, is backed by card with the inscription “A. [H?] Moore’s Grandma Amelia Ely who married Benj. Philps [Phelps?] Mother of Mary E. Dexter and Francis A. Moore”. I have not found genealogy information about any of the names given in the inscriptions.

    The period, gilt, cushioned frames are of original size, splined and measure 5 ½” x 4 ½”, not counting the brass hanging loops. The églomisé verre glass mats are period and appear to be original to these profiles. (As a side note, we know that Everet Howard did commission églomisé mats for some of his profiles.) The black paint on the glass has expected losses which I have camouflaged by placing acid-free black paper between the glass and the silhouette. The addition of this paper also keeps the black paint from sticking further to the paper. The lower left corner of the glass in Amelia’s frame is broken through-and-through. If you look closely at the photos you can see that it is cracked and reflects differently (since it sits in the frame on a very slightly different plane). The frames are lovely but suffer some dings and dents—especially Julia’s frame which has areas where the gesso is missing and you can see the wood beneath.

    This is a really lovely pair of early 19th century American hollow cut folk silhouettes.

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