This is a rare opportunity to enjoy the Holburne’s collection of portraits by the French silhouette-cutter Augustin Edouart (1789-1861). The realism and detail of Edouart’s full-length characters, simply cut out of black paper “by scissors alone”, is remarkable. The exhibition will include some of his finest and most famous silhouettes.

In 1931 the Holburne Museum purchased 24 paper portraits by the French silhouette-cutter Augustin Edouart (1789-1861). Their fragility means that they have rarely been displayed. They have recently been cleaned and repaired and in summer 2014 the Holburne will be exhibiting a large selection of them.

Edouart, who was entirely self-taught, arrived in England in 1814, an exile from Napoleonic France. In 1826-7 he began his first experiments as a professional silhouette artist, based in Bath and later in London.

Edouart travelled widely, displaying his extraordinary skill at cutting out profile portraits, mostly of full-length figures, entirely freehand. In his hands, ordinary needlework scissors gained “all the expressive powers of the pencil”. The resulting black paper cut-outs were mounted on white paper, signed and dated.

This exhibition will include one of Edouart’s finest silhouettes, a portrait of a gentleman in tight-fitting evening dress and pumps hesitating at the door of a ballroom while lively figures dance in the background. It will also feature one of his most famous works, a series of eight portraits of the preacher Rev. Charles Simeon (1759-1836). Simeon’s famous sermons at Cambridge had a great impact on the Evangelical movement in the Church of England, and Edouart captured them in a sequence of dramatic profiles representing the eight stages of a sermon. There is also a portrait of the Irish hero Daniel O’Connell, “known at a glance by everyone”.

The realism and detail of Edouart’s silhouettes, simply cut out of black paper with his “wonder-working scissors”, is remarkable.