Silhouette as Art and Entertainment

In light of tonight’s lecture, we just wanted to take a moment and highlight one of the more interesting silhouettes in the Harvard Theatre Collection. I suppose some might argue that it is not a proper silhouette insomuch that it is drawn rather than cut. Still, it is lovely and rare contemporary image of the great actor David Garrick (1717-1779), one we suspect is based upon a painting by Benjamin van der Gucht in the Royal Collection Trust (an engraving after the painting can be seen here).

MS Thr 153.1

Miniature portraits in this vein became extremely popular in the late eighteenth century and Houghton Library holds hundreds of silhouettes of prominent artists and scholars in its collections. During the nineteenth century, travelling silhouette arts brought the art to the masses, working at fairs, festivals, and other places of leisure. As Mr. Burns will demonstrate this evening, it is a tradition that continues to this day and we hope you will join us for what promises to be an entertaining event.

Prologue

TCS 53 (Garrick), Houghton Library.

At the reopening of the Drury Lane Theatre in September 1747, the famed English actor David Garrick read a poem by Samuel Johnson that intoned:

’Tis yours this night to bid the reign commence
Of rescu’d Nature, and reviving Sense;
To chase the charms of Sound, the pomp of Show,
For useful Mirth, and salutary Woe;
Bid scenic Virtue form the rising age,
And Truth diffuse her radiance from the stage.

In the spirit of Johnson, we hope this new digital stage offers a way of engaging, and dare we say pleasing, that part of the public that has an interest in the varied history of the performing arts in the United States and around the world. To that end, this blog aims to provide a glimpse into the Harvard Theatre Collection and the people–students, staff, researchers–who animate it.

A note on nomenclature. An entr’acte refers to a performance that takes place between the principal acts or plays in a theater. In this vein, our focus will be on posts that give an interesting glimpse into the collection over more involved and formal research. If you have an idea, question, or comment about the blog, contact us here.

For inquiries about collection materials and access, see our main page.

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