Archive of Silhouette Art: Shakespearean plays, opera and ballet by a Southern Woman Artist.
1890 - 1942. An extensive archive of hundreds of exquisitely cut paper silhouettes by a New Orleans artist with New York city connections, the majority of which depict Shakespearean plays, operas performed at the Met, ballet, and literary works. These are the works of Mrs. Katherine Gourdin Smith of New Orleans, whose silhouette work centers on contemporary theatrical work being performed in New York City.
Katherine Baldwin Robertson Smith (19 Sep 1864 -19 Apr 1943), was born in Louisiana at a tumultuous moment in the history of the U.S. On September 2nd, 1864, Atlanta fell to the Northern troops. On September 5th, voters in Louisiana who had taken an oath of loyalty to the United States ratified a state constitution abolishing slavery. On November 8th, Abraham Lincoln was reelected as president of the United States. By April 9th, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. Five days later, President Lincoln was assassinated.
Her father, William Robertson (1819 - 1890) graduated from West Point in 1840. He served as a 2nd Lieut. in the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1841-42 and in garrison at Baton Rouge, La., 1842-43. He resigned from the Army in July 1843 and was a planter in New Iberia, La. Her mother, Eliza Ann Marsh Robertson was born in Petit Anse Island (now Avery Island), Iberia Parish, La. In May 1844, she married William Robertson (1819-1890), with whom she had ten children. The artist's husband, Robert N. Gourdin Smith, mentioned in the "Register of Carolina Huguenots", was a cotton futures trader in New Orleans with the firm Smith & Hayne in New Orleans, (he is mentioned in the 1905 and 1913 editions of the "Cotton Trade Journal".) The New Orleans Social Register in 1922 cites the artist with husband R. N. Gourdin Smith. Katherine, her husband and parents are all buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, New Iberia, Iberia Parish, Louisiana.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds a diary/scrapbook of Eliza Robertson (1849-1856,) apparently written at New Iberia, Iberia Parish, La., recording the daily life of a Louisiana gentlewoman. Robertson's brief though detailed daily entries document her participation in food production, clothing production, child care, and other household tasks, often noting which chores were performed by slaves and which she performed herself. Social activities are also described in detail, including arrivals and departures of guests, food served, the celebration of Christmas, games played, and events attended.
The silhouettes of Shakespeare plays include Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest. The opera silhouettes include Gounod's 'Faust', Pagliacci's 'Punchinello' and the French comic opera, 'La Cigale'. The ballet silhouettes are of Prokofiev's 'Cinderella'. In addition there are silhouettes in an envelope marked "Rip" which are likely for the operetta by Robert Planquette based on the stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving.
The artist's process is shown, as she drew her subjects on light paper and then executed them in cut silhouettes in black.
One envelope contains a photographic negative of Gourdin Smith's silhouette art which is marked "Faust as [illegible] at Metropolitan Opera House N. Y. 18--. Jean de Reske, Faust" [3 other performers' names are illegible]. Jean de Reszke, the famed Polish tenor, appeared in Faust at the Met in 1883. This negative suggests that perhaps the artist was a magic lantern illustrator.
A newspaper clipping published towards the end of her life shows her interest in W.W.II. It is a silhouette illustration pertaining to the British lend lease bill of World War II. The image depicts Mother England beckoning to her daughter in America, who stands holding a miniature fleet of American ships on strings at the ready to sail across the sea in support of her deserving parent.
Each silhouette in its original envelope, some with the topics labeled in pencil by the artist. Miscellaneous pieces include dogs, rabbits, girls, baskets, braziers, encadre frames, cupids, honeysuckle, Mrs. Merriweather, and 'Christmas Pie". One of the envelopes provides the artist's address at 1718 Cadiz Street, New Orleans.
A total of 41 envelopes, each one enclosing at least 20 silhouettes so that the total number approaches 1,000. Some of them as small as 1/2" in height, others up to 5" high; along with 4 separate sleeves of additional silhouettes, including young men and women, characters in 18th century attire including damsels in distress and gentlemen in britches with young boys carrying hatchets, a series of 5 goats, and a series of wrought iron entry gates. Some of the silhouettes cut from white paper, some cut from black.
A remarkable archive reflecting a life long career in silhouette art by an American woman artist. Very good condition. Item #23132