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Old Art Form Revived in the Bronx

by Connor Ryan
A A
Silhouette from the museum.

Courtesy of Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Silhouette exhibit runs until November 18 at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum launched "Shade and Shadow: A Selection of British and America Silhouettes" on Friday. The Bronx museum will host the exhibit, featuring 20 silhouettes dating back to 1788, through November 18. 

Today, while many tend to forget about the silhouette as an art form, Margaret Highland, education director and curator at the museum, says the exhibit reminisces about a time when silhouettes were commonplace among everyone, despite social stature. From slaves to royalty, it was the modern-day "profile" picture.

"They were really popular because they were a quick, easy and inexpensive way to capture someone's likeness," Highland said in a phone interview. "You didn't have to have an oil on canvass portrait, which could be expensive, or a portrait miniature on ivory. Most people could afford to have a silhouette cut, and it was a good way to have a portrait of a loved one or yourself."

At the time the exhibit's silhouettes were made, they were cut with dyed, black paper and then pasted on a white background or some were simply painted. Highland says the style of the silhouettes, along with small details like clothing, can help identify specifics about when a given silhouette was constructed.

"It is a beautiful art form and some silhouettes are master artisans and there are some silhouette artists working today who have been inspired by their predecessors and it would just be a shame to lose that — to lose the art form," Highland said. "And thank goodness, even though photography really dealt a blow to the art form, thank goodness its never completely died out. I think we're even seeing a little bit of a renaissance of silhouettes today."

The exhibit features four different collections. The museum is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (718) 885-1461 bartowpellmansionmuseum.org.

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