Women Artists, Silhouettes, and Waxworks
This chapter examines silhouettes and waxworks by late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women artists in order to consider the ways in which these mysterious artifacts represent traces of the embodied presence of specific individuals. Viewing a silhouette connects the observer directly to the moment of the object’s creation—staging a kind of reenactment scenario across time. The extraordinary skill and technique of silhouette artists such as Isabella Beetham (1750–1825) and her daughter Jane Read (c. 1773–1800) provide insight into modes of late eighteenth-century style, gesture, and expression. In the second part of the chapter, I turn to waxworks, specifically to Madame Tussaud’s self-portraits. Encountering waxworks involves a sense of tangibility that disrupts the boundaries between spectators and objects. Silhouettes and waxworks are both quintessential tourist objects because they are things that are specifically connected to technologies of presence. I argue that the particular properties of silhouettes and waxworks as media are analogous to how women have appeared and disappeared in the archives, as well as the ways in which women’s embodied experiences are mediated through material representations that both preserve and obscure their presence.
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