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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

Silhouette Drawing of a Young Woman
c. 1840–1850, Philadelphia (probably), Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
Black ink with chalk delineation on wove wood pulp paper

Image: 3 x 1 3/8 inches; Sheet: 4 3/8 x 3 1/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Mrs. David Bland in memory of Frankie Maud Murphy Aves

Arts of North America

This portrait shows the silhouette of a refined young African American woman. Though she is not identified, her stylish dress and fashionable hair piece suggest that she is a middle-class woman who wants to show her status in a city environment.

The drawing emphasizes her elaborate hairstyle and respectable clothing rather than her facial features. In fact, her facial features are quite small, creating a profile that conceals her more “African” features. Before the invention of photography, images of black men and women (created almost exclusively by white artists, though see Revealed Silhouette of a Young Woman for a black artist) tended to overemphasize stereotypically African features.

In cities throughout the United States, free people of color sometimes sought to lessen the visual differences between themselves and white Americans so as to build the best possible lives in a racist society.

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