The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has launched of William Bache’s Silhouettes Album. It is a microsite featuring new research and digitized images for 1,800 cut-paper silhouettes by Anglo-American artist William Bache.
In addition to presenting portraits of famous figures like Thomas Jefferson and Martha Washington, the digital project restores the identity of previously unknown individuals rarely encountered in Federal-era portraiture—from traveling entertainers to tavern keepers and dance instructors.
Funded by Getty through its Paper Project initiative, the digital platform features hi-res images, a biography and interactive timeline of Bache’s life, conservation reports and more for this important example of one of the most affordable forms of portraiture in early U.S. history.
In 2008, Smithsonian conservators discovered the fragile papers of the Bache album contained arsenic and could not be safely handled or displayed without special precautions. The National Portrait Gallery used Getty’s support to overcome these limitations by fully digitizing the entire volume. Robyn Asleson, the lead curator and curator of prints and drawings at the National Portrait Gallery, also completed extensive research that confirms the identities of hundreds of sitters in New Orleans and generates a new understanding of traveling portrait artists at the turn of the 19th century.
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