In this ornate design made of cut paper, contemporary artist Ernst Oppliger depicts three pairs of couples in windows at the top of a towering structure, while the windows below contain silhouettes of many exotic animals, including elephants, giraffes, and ostriches.

Silhouettes became a popular art form in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and were frequently created as a form of portraiture.  To create a portrait silhouette, the portrait sitter’s shadow was cast onto a wall by a lamp, and the outline of the shadow was then traced and cut from a sheet of monochromatic paper. Placing the silhouette against a uniform colored background accentuated the design, an effect replicated here in Oppliger’s use of black cut paper on a white background.

As a fashionable craft, the process of producing silhouettes was practiced as “parlor art” by upper‐class men and women who not only cut out portraits, but also landscapes and decorative motifs. In Switzerland, where the craft was particularly popular, the paper cuts often featured religious subject matter, which was referred to as “cloister art,” or depicted the Swiss landscape and the animals and mountain folk who occupied it. Silhouettes also became a form of street‐art, with professionals and amateurs ready to cut customers’ profiles quickly as a cheap alternative to the painted portrait.

The fad of cut-paper silhouettes came to an end in most of Europe and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. However, this is not the case in Switzerland, where the art form has become a part of the nation’s cultural heritage and is considered a traditional folk-art. Several contemporary paper cutters in Switzerland are adapting traditional subjects in a more personal manner to create innovative designs in cut paper. Oppliger is a master of the medium, notable for the refinement of his cutting, the large scale of his works, and the sophistication of his designs. Oppliger carries on Swiss traditions of the past while breaking new ground in the art of cut paper.

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