Read on for historical facts together with an exciting opportunity to commission work from an English silhouette artist with links extending back to the 18th century
Origin of the Silhouette
Painted silhouettes of the late 18th century
In the 18th century, before photography was invented, silhouettes became the cheapest, quickest and most accurate method of preserving one's likeness. Any alternative involved either a series of expensive sittings at the studio of a portrait artist or an equally expensive commission to a sculptor.
In about 1760, artists specializing in silhouettes (or shades as they were then called) began to offer their services for just a few shillings. For this reasonable sum, a sitter could have his features reproduced in profile as either a black paper cut-out or as an ink painting.
The word silhouette became associated with the art following the enforcement of petty economies by French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette in 1759. Thereafter, anything economic in shape, form or colour became known as 'silhouette'.
From its unpretentious beginnings the silhouette art grew in stature. From simple black shapes, painted or pasted on paper, silhouettes became beautiful black, bronzed or coloured masterpieces, painted with infinite care and detail on to fine ivory, plaster, card or glass.
Portrait artists of merit began to turn their attention to silhouettes and some of the finest examples of the art can be traced to profilists of noteworthy calibre. Artists such as John Miers, Isabella Beetham, John Field, Edward Foster and Jacob Spornberg.
From Royalty downwards people sat for silhouettes much as we do for photographs. King George III, Lord Nelson, The Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria all have their profiles perpetuated in silhouette, and it was only with the dawn of the 20th century that the silhouette artist finally gave way to the photographer.
Michael Pierce is one of a small number of artists dedicated to the preservation of this two hundred year old craft. His traditional style owes little to modern techniques or materials but maintains the high standard of exquisite detail set by his predecessors of the 18th century.
Michael Pierce VPSLm
Michael Pierce was trained in the profiling art as a pupil of the late W. Ellis, a tutor at the prestigious Slade School. He is now the only full-time, practising profile miniaturist with pupil/tutor links extending back to the 18th century. Because of his unique background, his work is in constant demand, and he travels extensively to his many clients both at home and abroad.
In 1977 he was invited to produce the silhouette profiles of HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh for the Silver Jubilee. This was followed by an exhibition at Goldsmiths' Hall in London.
In 1990, together with a select group of authors and photographers, he produced the Limited Edition Fine Art Folio So Few, a book dedicated to all who fought with the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
Hand crafted to the highest possible standards, the 401 copies (priced at £1,600 each) were sold generating over one third of a million pounds for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Those who now own the books include HM The Queen and HM The Queen Mother. In 1992 Prime Minister John Major presented a copy to US President George Bush. This is now included in the collection of the Library of Congress in Washington.
In 1995, Michael Pierce was again part of the team which created the companion volume to So Few. Entitled So Many, this book is dedicated to all who served with RAF Bomber Command in World War II. The popular version of this Limited Edition Folio attained the WH Smith number 2 position in their 'Non-Fiction Best Sellers' list within a few days of publication.
Michael Pierce is acknowledged as the foremost master now living of the painted silhouette art. His work is avidly collected not only in the UK, but in Europe, the USA and the Far East. In 1992 he was elected Vice-President of the Society of Limners, and in 1996 received the Civic Award for his services to the City of Chichester. His work has recently been exhibited in London, Chartres and San Francisco. Country Life magazine has made him one of their elite 'Living National Treasures'.
It would be difficult to imagine a more exquisite or exceptional gift.
Michael Pierce, Silhouette Miniaturist
8 Kings Avenue, Chichester
If you want a silhouette created, the subject does not need to come to Chichester! Click here to learn how easy it is to send photos from which the work can be done, and information on payment options.