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).
Silhouette portrait by Charles Willson Peale; in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
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A silhouette is a view of some object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior, with the silhouette usually being black. The word is an eponym named after Etienne de Silhouette, a finance minister who in 1759 imposed such harsh economic demands upon the French people that his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply .
Two hundred years ago, long before the camera was invented, someone wishing to have an inexpensive portrait created of their loved ones would have visited a silhouette artist. Within minutes and using only a pair of scissors and a skillful eye, he would have produced a little image with a remarkable resemblance to his subject.
In America, silhouettes were highly popular from about 1790 to 1840. The invention of the camera signaled the end of the silhouette as a widespread form of portraiture. However, their popularity is being reborn in a new generation of people who appreciate the silhouette as a nostalgic and unique way of capturing a loved one's image.
Silhouettes have been used in many of the opening credit sequences of the James Bond films, where girls dancing in silhouette appear to be naked.
Silhouettes have also been used by recording artists in music videos. One example is the video for "Buttons" by The Pussycat Dolls, in which Nicole Scherzinger is seen showing her body as a silhouette.
Early iPod commercials portrayed silhouetted dancers wearing an iPod and earbuds.
The TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 used the main characters in silhouette when they were shown watching the movie in the "movie theater."
For interviews, some individuals choose to be videotaped in silhouette to mask their facial features and protect their anonymity, typically accompanied by a dubbed voice. This is done when the individual may be endangered if it is known they were interviewed.