William Henry Brown


was a silhouette artist who cut both head and full-length portraits, as well as large groups and subject pieces. As a writer, he authored
Portrait Gallery of Distinguished American Citizens,
first published in 1845, which features full-length silhouette portraits of twentyseven men, with brief biographical sketches written byBrown. He is especially well-known for two unique silhouettes, the first a six-foot-long rendering of the locomotive
De Witt Clinton.
Brown had been a passenger onits first trip, from Albany to Schenectady, New York, in 1831. The commemorative cutting included images of the engineer as well as prominent politicians of the day.The second silhouette, measuring 25 feet in length, pictured the St. Louis Fire Company and served as a decoration for its engine house. Another commandingsilhouette was of the entire South Carolina legislature of December 1846. Other cuttings of note were of the ships
and of the entireWashington Light Brigade.Brown was born and died in Charleston, South Carolina, and during his maturity was an inveterate traveler throughout the southern United States, Pennsylvania, New York, and the New England states. The artist cut his silhouettes with scissors out of matte black paper, occasionally outlining parts of the body in pencil or embellishing them with gold or silver. He often made “pasties,” renderings made from pictures cut from trade magazines and glued onto painted landscapes. One of hismore ambitious pasties, titled
Holding the Whole Week’s Picking,
consisted of four panels measuring five feet in length. On the panels against a painted watercolor background he placed silhouettes depicting African Americans hauling cotton.Brown’s surviving notes, advertisements, and published sources provide details of his travels and his artistic habits. Sittings for Brown’s standard semi- or full-bodied portraits lasted about a minute; the cutting of the silhouette portrait required another ten minutes; they usually measured six inches in height. Brown charged one dollar for a full-length silhouette portrait. He sometimes printed his signatures, but more often they were in longhand. In addition to the watercolor backgrounds he painted for his silhouettes, Brown also used lithographed interior or exterior views, usually suggesting the profession, location, or interest of the sitter as a background.Scholar Anna Wells Rutledge has determined that in 1859 Brown “quitted his profession of artist and worked as an engineer.” Records indicate that by 1874 heresided in Pennsylvania and was employed by the Huntington and Broad Top Railroad. He died in Charleston, South Carolina, of “physical debility.”
See also
Bishop, Robert Charles.
Folk Painters of America.
New York, 1979.Brown, William Henry.
Portrait Gallery of Distinguished American Citizens.
Hartford, Conn., 1845.Rutledge, Anna Wells. “William Henry Brown of Charleston.”
The Magazine Antiques,
no. 60 (December 1951): 532–533