Victorian Silhouettes

Many people ask, "Do you create Victorian silhouettes"?
The answer is yes. My silhouette portraits can be considered 'Victorian' silhouettes. I create handmade silhouette portraits that span over 200 years.

The Victorian era started in 1837 with the crowning of Queen Victoria in Great Britain, and ended in January 1901. That's a 64-year span of time, longer than any other single British monarch.

Here in the United States, we actually didn't have a technical Victorian era. We just didn't have Queen Victoria as our Queen, since we weren't British citizens anymore.

But we did have 18 Presidents during the "Victorian" era and we had many names for our American eras during this Victorian time: Westward Expansion, Industrial Revolution, Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, Second Industrial Revolution, Progressive Era, and the Gilded Age. That's a phenomenal amount of change, just measured during the period of the Victorian Age of 64 years!

During this "Victorian era", a large amount of things were happening just on our side of the 'pond':

  • 17 states were admitted into the United States union
  • Photography started experimenting in images of humans, and exploring better processes (1839)
  • The sewing machine was invented and improved (1846)
  • The storage battery invented (1859)
  • The first jeans created (1873)
  • Steam cars built (1873)
  • The telephone (1876)
  • The light bulb (1879)
  • The fountain pen (1884)
  • Radio (1895)
  • Immigration boom (at least 20 million)
  • Development of the transcontinental railroad
  • Jules Verne dreamed about space travel, air travel, and time travel 
  • and far too many more inventions and happenings to list here!

During this "Victorian" era, silhouettes held an important function: they were a main way that common people could have a portrait made. Since photography hadn't yet become easy, accessible, or inexpensive until near 1900, most people were still having silhouettes created to remember loved ones. Remember those photographs that you see of your relatives in the 1800s? Most likely they spent many days or weeks' salary on that photograph - and may have had to travel many miles to find a photographer, since the US was still mostly rural except for scattered larger cities.

Silhouettes had been, even in the mid 1800s, a dependable staple of portraiture. It was common to see silhouettes on the walls or tucked into Bibles, which was often a safe place to put family-related memorabilia. While silhouettes were definitely less expensive than the brand-new photographic processes, it could still cost one or more days' pay to have a silhouette created. Even in the later 1800s, (still in the Victorian period), silhouette were popular at fairs and festivals as nostalgia, novelty, or a portrait form that the less-moneyed classes could afford.

However at the last days of the Victorian period, silhouettes were part of family history, but not in vogue any more. The "cool" of silhouettes will have to wait until the 1920's to be exciting again.