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silhouette

silhouette (sĭlˌōĕtˈ) [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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