“Paper cutting is the prelude to writing” - Hans Christian Andersen
While Hans Christian Andersen is known primarily for his fairy tales, he was also a skilled and prolific practitioner of paper cutting, or the hand-cutting of intricate designs from a single sheet of paper. This distinctive art was a popular Scandinavian and European pastime, valued for its decorative qualities and as a visual and performative complement to storytelling. The latter of these was especially important for Anderson, who frequently entertained friends and admirers by producing cutouts of scenes or characters from the stories he was then reciting. Like the fairy tales themselves, these cuttings provided Andersen with a way to navigate his complex relationships to class, gender, race, love, family, and nation. The figure that appears most often in his cutouts, for example, is Pierrot – the sad clown of commedia dell'arte known for his naivete and unluckiness in love. In this sense, the ability to delight audiences with his “party pieces” (as he called them) granted him a temporary reprieve from anxieties over his impoverished background and lack of social standing (Missouri Review). This is particularly fitting given that paper cutting is a precursor to silhouette portraiture, one of the few truly populist arts forms available in the nineteenth-century. These cut-paper silhouettes were eventually replaced by photography but remained significant for how we understand the entanglements between race, class, gender, and representation [See Diana’s “Stereotyping and Silhouettes"].