Silhouettes of Reverend and Mrs Austen

Object name: Silhouettes of Reverend and Mrs Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAH75.1-2

Category: Objects

Description: A pair of silhouettes, showing Reverent George Austen and Mrs Cassandra (Leigh) Austen. Each is oval in a gilt frame, and measures 8cm x 6.5cm. Early nineteenth century School.

Made: Early nineteenth century

Context: These silhouettes depict Jane Austen’s parents, Reverend George Austen (1731-1805) and Mrs Cassandra (Leigh) Austen (1739-1827). They are not dated, but appear to have been made in the early nineteenth century. They may have been made in Bath, where the Austens lived from 1801-1805. Here there would have been ample opportunity to have their silhouettes taken.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the silhouette was a popular form of portraiture. Usually representing the subject’s head and bust, in profile, they were striking and effective.

Eighteenth century silhouettes tended to be cut from black paper, and stuck to a white backing paper. Later, in the early nineteenth century, there was a move to draw an outline and then paint it in. Either way, they could be produced in a matter of minutes by a skilled artist, and were therefore cheap to buy. They might also be made at home, either cut or drawn freehand by an amateur artist, or a shadow could be traced on a screen and then copied or cut out.

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