Silhouette portrait by Charles Willson Peale; in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.—Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Outline image or design in a single solid, flat colour, giving the appearance of a shadow cast by a solid figure. The term is usually applied to profile portraits in black against white (or vice versa), either painted or cut from paper, especially popular c. 1750–1850 as the least expensive method of portraiture. The name derives from Étienne de Silhouette, Louis XV's finance minister, notorious for his frugality and his hobby of making cut-paper shadow portraits. In 17th-century Europe, shadow portraits and scenes were produced by drawing the outline cast by candlelight or lamplight; when paper became widely available, they were often cut out freehand directly from life. Photography rendered silhouettes nearly obsolete, and they became a type of folk art practiced by itinerant artists and caricaturists.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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