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Guide to the Emily Jackson Photograph Collection of Edouart's American Silhouette Portraits
 PR 101 PR 101

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Emily Wolff and Sandra Markham

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 23, 2018
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Augustin Amant Constance Fidèle édouart (1788-1861) was an itinerant French artist who worked in England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1825 until 1839 making thousands of silhouette portraits of local citizens. édouart came across to New York in 1839 and spent the next decade cutting similar "shades" (as they were known in England) of significant American political figures, civic leaders, prominent citizens, and their families during his travels between Boston and New Orleans. He made fine likenesses of residents in the major coastal cities including Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore, but also spent time in popular seasonal resorts such as Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, a place that he returned to over five different years to cut hundreds of shadow portraits of visitors to that spa. édouart's American subjects include seven Presidents in addition to a variety of statesmen, businessmen, musicians, actors, artists, doctors, lawyers, and educators; in general, they are some of the most notable personalities of the 1840s.

édouart's technique was to cut full-length profile portraits in duplicate, with one image presented to the sitter and the second pasted in his own carefully labeled and indexed set of albums. édouart's albums served a dual purpose: as his professional archive and client record, and as a sales tool to attract new patrons as he moved from city to town cutting portraits. One of the finest nineteenth century silhouette artists, édouart was known for capturing excellent and accurate likenesses of his subjects, and for his remarkable agility in cutting fine details such as eyeglasses, shirt collars, flowers, toys, family pets, and a variety of other delicate props held by his patrons.

In 1849 édouart sailed for England aboard the cargo ship Oneida. A storm wrecked the ship in Vazon Bay off the coast of Guernsey, but the artist was saved along with one trunk holding six of his American silhouette albums and ten albums of his British work. He was taken into the home of the Lukis family on Guernsey with whom he stayed until his health recovered. In return for the family's kindness, he presented them his collection of silhouette albums before returning to his native France, where he spent his remaining years near Calais.

British historian and author Emily Gatliff Jackson (Mrs. Frederick Nevill Jackson, 1861-1947) acquired the édouart silhouette albums while researching her book The History of Silhouettes (London: 1911). She had placed an advertisement in a British journal,  The Connoisseur Magazine, seeking information on any known silhouettists or silhouette collections; among the respondents was the son of Frederica Lukis, who sold Jackson the édouart albums in his possession.

In the summer of 1911, with her book completed and in press, Emily Jackson contacted the New-York Historical Society with an offer to sell the entire set of édouart's American albums for the price of ten pounds per figure (or a total of 36,000 pounds for all). Writing from her home in Sidcup, Kent, to Society president Samuel V. Hoffman, she acknowledged that she could sell the portraits individually for a higher profit, but felt strongly that the collection should "be worthily placed amongst the archives of the nation to whom the Sitters of the pictures belonged, that it should be preserved intact for the Americans of the future." For reasons unrecorded, the Society declined her offer.

Two years later the British antique dealer Arthur S. Vernay (1877-1960) presented Emily Jackson's collection of 3,721 of édouart's American silhouettes for sale in his New York gallery. Vernay's exhibition catalogue text stated a different sympathy from that of the silhouettes' former keeper: ". . . the present owner at first thought of offering them en bloc to one of the national museums, but on maturer consideration decided that it would interest the greater number if he were to offer them separately so that those who have portraits of their ancestors among the collection might have an opportunity of securing them for preservation in the family archives. Consequently, all the Silhouettes in this catalogue will be disposed of individually." Most of the portraits were thus dispersed, although the 861 silhouettes remaining unsold at the end of Vernay's exhibition were purchased by the Reverend Glenn Tilley Morse (1870-1950) of Newburyport, himself a silhouettist, who bequeathed them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sometime after Emily Jackson acquired the édouart albums, she had the pages of the American volumes carefully photographed on 5 by 7 inch glass plate negatives. Her purpose was at first for her own use in publications, but after completing her book Ancestors in Silhouette Cut by August édouart (London and New York: John Lane, 1921), Jackson began to offer for sale "photo facsimiles" of the portraits through her self-published  Catalogue of 3,800 Named and Dated American Silhouette Portraits of August édouart. Her intended audiences included institutions and libraries (she offered a full set of the photographs bound in albums for 800 pounds), as well as historians, genealogists, and the descendants of édouart's sitters (for one pound ten shillings per figure), as she realized that her photographs might then hold the only available copies of the thousands of Americans portraits once in her possession. In her catalogue text Jackson asked, "Are your Grandparents amongst them? Send full names, according to list, of each member of family required."

The lists provided by the Jackson and Vernay catalogues create a unique census of some of the most prominent Americans of the 1840s, complete with their hometowns and, in some cases, their ages and occupations. In addition they provide the most complete record of édouart's output and travels during his time in the United States. In concert with those publications, Emily Jackson's set of photographs make available the only comprehensive visual record both of those citizens and of édouart's American work, a graphic record of thousands of characters captured in the era just before paper-based photography made portrait images accessible to the masses.

Frederick Nevill Jackson, a banking executive, died in London in 1934. When World War II began, Emily Jackson came to the United States to live with her son Bernard. She returned to her home in London at the war's end, leaving her silhouette and photograph collections, which she brought over with her for safekeeping, in America with her son. The New-York Historical Society purchased the surviving glass plate negatives and photographs of édouart's American albums from Bernard Nevill Jackson (1900-1982) in January 1953.