Antique 1920s silhouettes: Amazing scenes hand-cut from paper

Eveline Maydell silhouette art

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This set of beautiful antique 1920s silhouettes were cut by hand by artist Eveline Maydell, whose portrait clients included many of society’s wealthiest men and women.

Below the Maydell collection, you can also have a look at some creative works by other silhouette artists in the 1920s.

The skill of antique silhouette artist Baroness Eveline Maydell (1926)

By Alice Van Leer Carrick – Excerpted from Country Life magazine, November 1926

Her scissors, fragile things only four inches long, are so lightly hung that they respond to the least movement of her deft fingers. I wish you could have seen her cut, as I did, she captivating miniature that she made for me while we were chatting together.

It is only three inches long and one high, this beguiling group of two crinolined Victorian ladies, each accompanied by a gallant gentleman, and the tiny trees are perfection itself.

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (6)

And this is the way it was done. The Baroness took a piece of black paper, folded it together, sketched lightly on the reverse side (she cuts with her right hand, but sketches with her left), punched holes around the drawing to hold it firm.

The black, you see, loses its depth if over-much handled — and then the swift blades began their snipping, the Baroness talking all the while as if she were not performing a paper miracle.

She always prefers to sketch first, then cut the sitter’s expression changes, and a quicker method lacks finesse; Baroness Maydell insists on a finished portrait effect — “otherwise you get a likeness, but not a portrait,” she declared.

A sitting usually takes an hour or an hour and a half, though afterward she sometimes works days upon perfecting the profile.

Portrait of a Baltic Lady - Silhouette art from 1921

With children, her methods are quicker — if you are a parent you can see why — and she invariably tries to interest them so that they reveal their real inner selves to her.

I suppose that’s why they are so fascinating, these little girls in short, frilly frocks (I like them so much more than the roadster pantalettes!), these small boys with velocipedes and flags, these wee things with Teddy bears or astride adorable ducks. They are life itself!

And I like the way the Baroness chooses the costumes her sitter should wear, the gowns that suggest their personalities, and lend themselves to the graceful flowing lines she loves.

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Her flower decorations, too, are chosen carefully, really symbolically, for where the figure is stately the blossoms are tall and formal, while youth has gayer, lighter bouquets. And, constantly, she tries not to get black and white definitely, but modulated shades, “more like nature with its grays as well.”

She is the first profilist to do this, though, always too, you feel that even with a modern expression her roots are deep in an old technique; she has the finish of the fine silhouettists of the eighteenth century.

And as to the proper method of framing, she is most positive: all profiles, the Baroness feels, should be set with some depth; figures should be free and springing, trees show their waving foliage and tossing branches; the final effect should never be dully flat.

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Her laces and chiffons are meticulously delicate, and I especially admired the white spats of a noted art critic, and the way she portrayed a waiting-maid’s apron; the folds were indicated by black paper lines, the rest cut away and showing white against the mount.

I like her backgrounds, too; usually they are plain white or cream, although she often employs a parquetry floor and certain decorative accessories and fragile wreaths; but I remember one lovely shadow taken at Newport — a tender distance of blue, white, nebulous clouds, and, far away, the sea.

And I can give my sincerest praise to a skier, a tall, straight figure outlined against a gray northern sky with hovering birds upon the horizon.

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Baroness Eveline Maydell
The artist, Baroness Eveline Maydell

Antique silhouette of Mrs Calvin Coolidge

First Lady Grace Anna Coolidge

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (4)

Portrait of a bride

Eveline Maydell - Portrait of a Bride

Mrs Harold Brown’s silhouette

Georgette Wetmore Sherman Brown, the wife of turn-of-the-century financier Harold Brown, is shown with her bust of Mme Recamier, a 19th century French socialite.

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MORE: Before photography, artists created bust silhouettes like these (1760-1827)

Portrait of Mrs W K DuPont

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (3)

Antique silhouette of Mrs Theodore Roosevelt

Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt is depicted in this seated silhouette portrait by Baroness Evaline Maydell.


Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (9)

Mr John Nicholas Brown

Shown seated, with his dog Monkey. Presumably, the portrait title refers to the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (8)

Beautiful work by other silhouette artists of the 1920s

The names of the artist who created the following detailed antique silhouettes are unknown

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (1)

MORE: Vintage Women Coloring Book #3: Fashion from the Early 1920s

Silhouettes - portraits from the 1920s (10)

Woman umbrella fashion - 1920s (1)

Woman umbrella fashion - 1920s (2)

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