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silhouette(sĭl'o͞oĕt`), outline image, especially a profile drawing solidly filled in or a cutout pasted against a lighter background. It was named for Étienne de Silhouette (1709–67), who was the finance minister to Louis XV; it is said that he was so noted for his stinginess that cheap articles, including portraits, were designated à la Silhouette. Drawings in silhouette became very popular in Europe during the last decades of the 18th cent. and replaced miniature paintings at French and German courts. In England and America profile portraitists proliferated in the 19th cent. and numerous magazine and book illustrators, e.g., Arthur Rackham, employed silhouettes, or, as they were called in England, shades. Their popularity was fostered by the interest in Lavater's science of physiognomy and by the strong interest in classical art, especially in Greek black-figure vase painting. Silhouette drawings decreased in popularity after the invention of the daguerreotype.
See A. V. Carrick, A History of American Silhouettes (1968); N. Laliberté and A. Mogelon, Silhouettes, Shadows and Cutouts (1968); S. McKechnie, British Silhouette Artists and Their Work: 1760–1860 (1978).
(from the French controller general of finances E. de Silhouette [1709–67], of whom a caricature was drawn in the form of a shadowy profile), in the broad sense, the characteristic outline of an object in either nature or art, similar to the object’s shadow. In the narrow sense, the silhouette is a technique in graphic art by which a flat monochrome representation of figures and objects is produced. Drawn with india ink or white pigment or cut out of paper and pasted onto a background, a silhouette forms a continuous bounded contour, that is, a dark or light area, on a contrasting background.
The art of silhouette has been known since ancient times in China (where it has long preserved its traditions), Japan, and other Asian countries. It has been popular in Europe since the 18th century. Profile portraits, domestic scenes, illustrations, and still lifes were the favorite genres, as seen in the silhouettes by P. O. Runge, A. von Menzel, and P. Konewka in Germany and by F. P. Tolstoi, E. M. Bem, and G. I. Narbut in Russia. In more recent times, the method has been employed by E. S. Kru-glikova, N. V. Il’in, and other artists.