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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.

Scope and Content Note

The Emily Jackson Photograph Collection of édouart's American Silhouette Portraits contains gelatin silver prints, glass plate negatives, and ephemera related to the documentation of a set of albums compiled by French artist August édouart and briefly owned by Jackson. The collection is divided into three series: Series I. Photographs; Series II. Documentary Material; and Series III. Glass Plate Negatives.

édouart affixed his reference set of portraits to album pages, which he then labeled with each sitter's name, hometown, and the place and date of the cutting. Taken together, the pages provide unique visual documentation of Americans of the 1840s, a profile in profile revealing their appearances on several levels at once: physical countenances, occupations, clothing styles, favored pets and furniture, and chosen watering holes. In addition to Americans, there are a few portraits of exotic foreigners, such as the turbaned and robed Mar Yohannan, Bishop of Ooroomiah, Persia, taken at Saratoga Springs in 1842 (sheet 405), and Chin Sung, who was cut in Washington, D.C., and whose finely described braid extends nearly the full length of his body (sheet 878). There is a wide range of furniture pieces and decorative arts elements incorporated throughout the portraits: chairs, desks, tables, lit candlesticks, pulpits, etc. Family pets present include dogs (on sheets 300, 503, 518, 563, and 1009) and a large, highly plumed bird (sheet 576).

The juxtaposition of several figures on each page lend the sheets themselves, in a certain sense, an abstract folk art feel. A finished portrait that the sitter received would have his or her image set down on a sheet of paper within a lithographed domestic or outdoor background, where the props and posture would have a visual context. In contrast, édouart's own reference albums had between one and six portraits pasted on each blank page, the often unrelated figures forming a human chain without so much as a thread to connect them with a neighbor, place, or circumstance.

The Society's accession records described only "1,052 negatives and positives of 3,800 silhouettes by édouart" without a further breakdown of quantity. An inventory of the collection made in February 1953, after it had arrived at the Society, describes 251 negatives and thirty-nine prints "missing" including twenty sheets for which there were no images, in either negative or positive. When the collection was processed in 2003, there were twenty-four sheets for which there are no images in negative or positive. They are sheet numbers 14, 86, 151-152, 204, 725-742, and 745.


Photographs have been arranged into three series based on format:

  1. Series I: Photographs
  2. Series II: Documentary Material
  3. Series III: Glass Plate Negatives