Every August features an Americana focus in the antiques world, and auctions and shows present their best items made in America. I made a shopping list while browsing through next week’s Americana auction at Skinner: rainbow spatterware, a nineteenth-century wooden bucket with “good girl” painted on it, cherry card tables, and an amazing schoolgirl map of the world. I don’t need any of these things but a girl can dream! There are some great silhouettes in this auction as well, including several by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist”, an anonymous favorite of collectors. I was rather surprised by the low estimate placed on this lady with the blue dress: $600-$800. Two years ago, another silhouette by the same artist fetched $6600 in a Skinner Auction, and another Puffy Sleeve Artist creation sold for $8750 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.
Two silhouettes by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” at Skinner Auctions: a necklaced lady in a blue dress (upcoming here) and Henrietta Wakefield Wearing a Red Gown and Holding a Fan, both c. 1830-31; another red-gowned Puffy Sleeve silhouette of the same vintage, Christies.
Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to tell that these silhouettes were made by the same artist, even for a laywoman such as I (although this last lady looks a bit full-blown). It seems odd that we can’t identify the artist by more than his (or her) most distinctive motif: whoever it was was quite prolific and 1830 wasn’t that long ago (in historical perspective). Donna-Belle Garvin of the New Hampshire Historical Society has made a case for John Hosley Whitcomb (1806-49) a deaf-mute artist from Hancock, New Hampshire (“Family Reunited: A Tale of Two Auctions,” New Hampshire Historical Society Newsletter Volume 29, Spring 1991), and the attributed artist of a pair of attributed hollow-cut silhouettes of gentlemen sold just a few days ago in a Willis Henry auction. If the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” was indeed Whitcomb, he appears to have exercised a more restrained style with his gentlemen: the ladies look a bit more distinctive, whimsical, and even modern in their abstraction. Whoever he or she was, my favorite examples of the Puffy Sleeve Artist’s work are those examples in which these women are holding books, identifying them by both age and initials, and something other than their puffy sleeves.
A John Hosley Whitcomb silhouette and “Puffy Sleeve Artist” silhouette from last weekend’s Willis Henry auction; Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes dated 1831 and 1830 from Christie‘s and Northeast Auctions.
Appendix 8/5/15: Silhouette expert Peggy McClard (her extremely informative website is here) has informed me that the lady in pink above is not by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, and also that he has recently been identified as the western Massachusetts “profile cutter” Ezra Wood by Michael and Suzanne Payne (see the Magazine Antiques, July/August 2014).